The need to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have done more to accelerate the digital transformation many have been working towards for years, than all of the bitching, moaning, hand-wringing, and pearl clutching heretofore expended on cajoling knowledge workers to adopt and adapt these technologies.
Five years ago I served as the developmental editor on the 2nd edition of “The New Social Learning.” I had the pleasure of working with the co-author of the 1st edition, who was the principal author of the 2nd, Marcia Conner. Marcia is one of a handful of people who recognized the need for, and the power of, such a transition . . . and this book was an attempt to help leaders and organizations move forward to adopt these new ways of working, and working together.
I recommend this book highly for everyone who is now finding themselves either working at home or dealing with today’s need to be more “distanced” from our colleagues. There’s a wealth of good info here. I urge you to check it out. It’s about far more than just learning.
“The Workplace Has Changed. At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication? Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them?”
While I know it means more lost jobs, ever since we started staying at home, I’ve enjoyed seeing TV pundits and their guests having discussions from their homes. The lost jobs I refer to are primarily the people that see to the hosts’ and guests’ hair and makeup prior to going on camera. That’s not feasible now and it’s sometimes quite obvious that people are putting on their own makeup (if any) and letting their beards grow (that would be the men, that is.)
It’s interesting to see the different levels of technology available to the hosts and guests as well. Some will be using wired earbuds, some will have airbuds, and some are using their computer or phone’s speakers and mic. The hosts, I’m assuming here, have access to more sophisticated equipment, though that wasn’t the case at first. It’s also been interesting to see the evolution of some of these shows, as I’m sure some of the tech they normally use in production has been moved to the homes of the hosts.
I’m speaking here of many of the afternoon and evening shows on MSNBC, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. All of these shows have a plethora of guests, and each one is communicating from somewhere in their home.
Another aspect of this new reality I find fascinating is where these people choose to set up their “studio.” On MSNBC, many of the guests (especially now, when so much of the news centers on this pandemic and many of the guests are medical and epidemiology professionals, as well as public health and service professionals, there are lots of bookshelves in the background.
Some of the guests are situated so it’s possible to get a glimpse of the titles of a few of their books and it’s possible to gain a sliver of insight into who these people are or, at least, what they’re interested in. My entire adult life, whenever I am at the house of someone I know, if I have the opportunity I will always check out their bookshelves. It’s not different when I have the opportunity to do so via the Tube.
Just one example. If I remember correctly, at least until recently, Trevor Noah had two books laying down on a shelf over his right shoulder. I don’t recall if I could make out the titles, but the authors’ names were quite visible and, frankly, that’s enough to get a sense of what he’s giving credence to or what he’s enjoying learning about. The two authors in this case were. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Eddie Glaude, two men I admire.
There are two other shows I normally watch, and each of them has chosen a wildly different approach for how to go about having a show with no guests and no crew (at least not at their homes.) They are Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher. John Oliver, whose show generally consists of him sitting behind a desk, with an audience, now sits in front of a white wall; that’s it. Bill Maher, on the other hand, has chosen to record his show in his backyard and he uses laugh tracks from old (and I do mean old – black and white) TV shows.
I can’t imagine how they’re thinking of doing original dramas, rom-coms, and the like, but I hope they never go back to doing reality shows. The last nearly three and a half years should have cured the majority of the nation from the need to ever see a reality show again.
Regardless, it’s interesting to watch the development of “workarounds” as their crews get more and more creative in dealing with working remotely. I’m hopeful it will result in a lasting change to how we view things like the need for men to wear a suit and tie almost any time a camera is on them. Or the need for women to have perfectly coiffed hair and painstakingly applied makeup. I’d like to see the world lighten up and relax a bit. We could use it.
I wonder if this pandemic, and our response to it, will change how seriously we take ourselves. If you’ve been watching television—and I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume most everyone is—you may have noticed some changes in much of live news and late night programming. Since nearly everyone who’s reporting is at home, by themselves, it’s obvious that the women anchors, reporters, and pundits are having to do their own hair and makeup. Regardless of how well they might do it, it’s not the same and it’s noticeable. I haven’t noticed how much, if any, makeup the men are wearing, but I have noticed a whole bunch of them has decided it’s not worth shaving right now (I’m one of them.)
So . . . what I’m wondering is, after we are able to return to some semblance of a normal life, where we can gather again so that newscasters and performers can return to the studio, when knowledge workers can return to their cube farms . . . will we? Better yet, should we? I spent the last few years of my career at Rocketdyne working from home. I’d like to think I was at least as productive, if not more so, than I was when I was going in to the office each day.
When I first started working there, I wore a suit and tie each and every day. By the time I left, the only time I wore a tie was if the “customer” (usually NASA) was visiting and we had to blow smoke up their asses. Knit polo shirts and chinos became acceptable and, on Fridays, everyone wore denim. I’d like to think one of the lessons we’ll glean from this (and there will be dozens, no doubt) is that we can be a lot more casual and still perform at a high level. And there are numerous ways to communicate, connect, and collaborate, especially if we’re not hamstrung by unnecessary and awkward notions of propriety.
During my last eight years at Rocketdyne (which traversed ownership by The Boeing Company and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division) I was the Project Manager for an internal tool called AskMe. It’s original intent was to provide a method whereby people could find both experts and expertise, i.e. people with knowledge they needed or papers and other publications that expressed useful knowledge. I later came to realize what we were doing was using a social media tool.
During the entire eight years I worked on that system, it was a constant struggle to get people to use it. People clearly believed that sharing was not in their best interests. Either that, or they were too intimidated by the thought of putting their knowledge to the test of time, as the whole idea was to foster conversations that would be saved and could later be searched when that kind of knowledge was needed again.
At any rate, I tried lots of different ways of promoting the tool. This one, below, came about after I received an email (at home) for a penis enlargement product. I thought to borrow the concept and see if it flew. I have taken the liberty of blurring out my colleague’s face, as I’m not sure where he is and, frankly, I don’t even remember who he is!
BTW – Within a couple of years of my departure, much to the chagrin of many who had worked on it, the tool was gone. I’ll share later why I think this was so.
This is another paper I found on my computer. Truth to tell, I have no idea who wrote it. It could have been me, but I don’t remember. I searched the phrase from the title in Google, but could not find anything. Inasmuch as I retired from Rocketdyne (and the pursuit of enterprise-wide KM) nearly 10 years ago, it could be from something I encountered more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, I’m sharing it with the caveat that I’m not claiming to have written it; I’m only asserting it’s an important document for anyone who’s struggling with getting their organization’s people to share their knowledge for the benefit of their company. My experience, as well as my discussion with those who are still involved in the corporate world, is that knowledge sharing is still nowhere near as widespread as I think it should be. So, without further ado, here’s that Baker’s dozen of reasons people aren’t sharing:
don’t know why they should do it. Leadership has not made a strong case for
knowledge sharing. Solution: Have the leader of the organization communicate
regularly on knowledge sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.
don’t know how to do it. They have not received training and communications on
how to share knowledge. Solution: Regularly communicate and conduct training,
webinars, and knowledge fairs. Web-based training and webinar recordings should
be available for all tools.
don’t know what they are supposed to do. Leadership has not established and
communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing. Solution: Establish and
communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals.
think the recommended way will not work. They have received training and
communications but don’t believe what they are being asked to do will work.
Solution: The KM leaders, knowledge brokers, and other members of the KM team
have to convince people in small groups or one-on-one by showing them that it
think their way is better. They are used to working on their own or
collaborating only with a small group of trusted comrades and believe this is
the best way. Solution: Regularly share stories of how others are benefiting
from sharing knowledge using the recommended ways. This should help sway those
stuck in their current ways to consider using better ways.
think something else is more important. They believe that there are higher-priority
tasks than knowledge sharing. Solution: Get all first-level managers to model
knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to
knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.
is no positive consequence to them for doing it. They receive no rewards,
recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge. Solution:
Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge.
For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable
rewards to those with the top point totals.
think they are doing it. They are sharing knowledge differently than the
recommended ways (e.g., sending email to trusted colleagues or distribution
lists). Solution: Assign people to work with each community and organization to
show them how to use the recommended ways and how they work better than other
ways. Providing a new tool or process which is viewed as a “killer app” – it
quickly and widely catches on – is the best way for the old ways to be replaced
with new ways.
are rewarded for not doing it. They hoard their knowledge and thus get people
to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions
based on doing other tasks. Solution: Work with all managers in the
organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop
rewarding the wrong behaviors.
punished for doing it. As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they
don’t achieve other goals which are more important to the organization.
Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical
processes and performance goals.
anticipate a negative consequence for doing it. They are afraid that if they
share knowledge, they will lose their status as a guru (no one will have to
come begging to them at the time of need), that people they don’t trust will
misuse it or use it without attribution, or that they will not achieve other
more important goals. They are afraid of asking a question in public because it
may expose their ignorance or make them appear incompetent. Solution: Position
knowledge sharing as being a critical success factor for the organization.
Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships through enterprise
social networks and face-to-face meetings. Recognize those who ask in public,
and provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others.
no negative consequence to them for not doing it. Knowledge sharing is not one
of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced. Solution:
Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and
enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top – if the
leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will
obstacles beyond their control. They are not allowed to spend time sharing
knowledge, they don’t have access to systems for knowledge sharing, or they
don’t have strong English language skills for sharing with those outside of
their country. Solution: Embed knowledge sharing into normal business
processes. Provide ways to collaborate when not connected (e.g., using email
for discussion forums). Encourage those with weak English skills to share
within their countries in their native languages.
culture consists of three levels: Artifacts; espoused values; and shared tacit
Each of these levels is important in understanding not only what corporate
culture is, but how it works, and how it can be both changed and used to the
benefit of the organization as a whole.
consist of real, tangible things which can be associated with the organization.
For example, McDonald’s has its golden arches, KFC has its colonel, and Nike
has its swoosh. These are the most obvious, though not necessarily the most
powerful, artifacts which can be associated with a company or organization. The
more important artifacts are, for our purpose, things like architecture, décor,
and the way people act while at work.
of the deepest feelings attributable to an organization’s culture are
engendered by artifacts. For example, outside the main entrance to Rocketdyne
sits an F-1 Rocket Engine. The engine stands approximately 20 feet high and, at
its base, is around 12 – 15 feet in diameter. In front of it is a simple,
bronze plaque, which informs you that this is the engine, along with four
others, which lifted the Apollo Lunar Modules off the earth on their trip to
anyone who works there, and knows anything about the company where they work,
this engine evokes powerful feelings of accomplishment and success. I know from
firsthand experience and observation that this frequently translates into a
willingness (at the very least, resignation) to work that extra hour, to take a
little more time in assuring your work is the best it can be.
may be characterized by, among other things, an organization’s beliefs, level
of communication, and methods of accomplishing it mission. These values may be
seen in such things as a company’s rules, policies, and procedures. It may be
found on the walls as slogans and posters. In talking to members of the
organization you may be told that the company believes in things like teamwork,
“best practices”, continuous improvement, and lean manufacturing.
Rocketdyne, the corporate mantra involves team-based component production,
commitment to safety, scientific analysis at all levels of the corporate
structure, and lessons learned, in addition to other policies and procedures
too numerous to mention. It is the background against which our daily
activities take place and translates into copious collections of data, numerous
briefings to higher and higher levels of management, and close inspection and
analysis of every piece of hardware which goes out the door.
while many of these concepts may be spoken of, and may even appear as items of
value on the corporate web pages and on slogans and posters put up around the
plant and offices, it does not necessarily follow that they are actually
carried out in our day-to-day lives. Frequently, managers and others who will
say they believe in stated policies, are nevertheless placed in positions where
they are required by more specific policies to do exactly the opposite of what
the company says it believes in.
Rocketdyne, this can be seen in the use of individual awards and yearly
performance reviews, in spite of the outer appearance given by a team-based
organization. This is a case where the management, due to executive
requirements, fails to “walk the talk”, and falls back on “the way we’ve always
inconsistency leads to what is arguably the most important aspect of culture,
the real, deep assumptions by an organization and its members of how to
accomplish the daily tasks, the sum total of which are the company’s true
vision and mission.
Shared Tacit Assumptions
is perhaps the most pervasive and, with respect to efforts at change, the most
insidious of the three aspects of corporate culture. They are the things which
“go without saying”, which we accept as the ways of the world, or the ways in
which things get done. People cannot readily tell you what their culture is,
any more than fish, if they could talk, could tell you what water is.
the same way, a company’s shared tacit assumptions are taken for granted. Many,
if not most, people are incapable of seeing any other way to perform a task or
get a particular result. It is all they know, and to think otherwise is, in a
Rocketdyne there are numerous ways in which this happens. They are frequently
discovered only when something goes wrong, or when a series of small things go
wrong which, by themselves might go unnoticed, but which lead to a major
problem. We have studied the Valuejet disaster in 1995 at some length, yet as
soon as we return to our jobs we occasionally find it easy to forget that it
can, and sometimes does, happen to us.
have instituted numerous methods of improving quality and performance, such as
quality circles, continuous process improvement, and total quality management.
We are in the process of instituting “lean manufacturing” and some of the
aspects of the theory of constraints. Nevertheless, we continue to assume
individual action and heroics are the real way things get done. We look for the
engineer or mechanic who will come up with the answer to difficult problems,
and neglect to look to the whole company for answers.
some managers have been looking for people who can “think out of the box”, who
are capable of changing their frame of reference and understanding our problems
in unique ways, or approaching them from a different perspective. Still, the
focus is more on the individual and not on the team.
one sets about to change a company’s culture, its view of the world, it is of
the utmost importance to understand not only these three aspects of culture,
but also the depth with which they pervade the organization. Failing to do so
will certainly result in a misapprehension of the difficulty involved in
most important things to realize are: 1. Culture is deep – it is tacit and
gives meaning and predictability to our daily lives; 2. Culture is broad – it
involves every aspect of our work and sometimes even invades the way we conduct
our personal lives, and; 3. Culture is stable – people are generally not fond
of change, and are far happier when everything goes along smoothly, just like
it did yesterday and the day before. Any attempt to enforce change is likely to
produce resistance and anxiety.
formidable as the technical and procedural issues of Knowledge Management are,
the need to change an organization’s culture far exceeds them. Most all have
heard the term “knowledge is power”. This is generally perceived to be so and
frequently translates into a desire to hoard information. Many organizations
have experienced the “building of empires” which stands in the way of its
freely sharing collective knowledge. Without a major change in our attitude
toward ownership of information, we will not be able to take advantage of the
tools available to us.
Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline”, writes of the steps and the “core
disciplines” involved in creating a learning organization
He points out that, among those disciplines, is that of having a shared vision,
and why it is important. Here is what Senge has to say about shared vision.
“In a corporation, a shared vision changes people’s
relationship with the company. It is no longer ‘their company;’ it becomes ‘our
company.’ A shared vision is the first step in allowing people who mistrusted
each other to begin to work together. It creates a common identity. In fact, an
organization’s shared sense of purpose, vision, and operating values establish
the most basic level of commonality. . . .
“Shared visions compel courage so naturally that people
don’t even realize the extent of their courage. Courage is simply doing
whatever is needed in pursuit of the vision.”
can think of no better way to conclude my paper. Moving from our current
relationship with collective knowledge, our intellectual capital, may well
require a massive rethinking of our entire corporate culture. There are
organizations, mostly younger and already possessed of a shared vision which
includes becoming a learning organization, who are already pursuing this path.
there are numerous, often older organizations which will be hard-pressed to
find the courage and character it will take to let go of the control they feel
they now have and embrace a new kind of control; that which comes from an
entire organization pursuing the same goals and vision. Until we experience the
transformation from being data and information driven, to being truly knowledge
driven, we will frequently be at war with ourselves.
Management provides some of the understanding of the problem, and the vision
and direction we must strive toward. However, without fundamental changes in
our attitudes the path will be long and fraught with difficulty. It is, however,
truly a worthy struggle and is almost certainly inevitable. Changes in
technology are coming at us with greater rapidity. We have no choice but to
develop new ways of thinking to better take advantage of the new tools placed
at our disposal. We owe it to ourselves.
Edgar H. Schein, The Corporate Culture
Survival Guide, (San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1999), pp. 15-20
amorphous collection of knowledge residing within the minds and computers of
any organization is now being referred to as “Intellectual Capital”. The
question we face is how to preserve and invest that capital wisely. In order to
understand and solve this problem it is important first to understand how we go
about acquiring and sharing our collective knowledge.
processing of knowledge can be seen as occurring in one of four interrelated
steps. These steps may be characterized as sensing, organizing, socializing,
and internalizing. Each of these steps may be further characterized by specific
activities that people engage in to develop their understanding of, and ability
to use, the information they receive.
consists of two basic dimensions, discovering and capturing. Every day we are
experiencing the world around us, whether at work, play, or rest. Regardless of
where we are, be it work or home, the world impinges on us. It is the degree to
which we pay attention to our world that determines how much we will discover,
and how much of it we will manage to capture (remember).
order for information to be shared, or even utilized by an individual, it must
be captured. Capture in the context of this analysis consists of placing
information or knowledge in a form which is accessible by others. One of the
most obvious manifestations of information capture is a report, written and/or
posted on an intranet site, This aspect of Knowledge Management can also be
characterized as turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. It prepares
the way for the next step in the acquisition and sharing of knowledge.
Rocketdyne, this is done through reports such as Monthly Progress, Inspection
Discrepancy and Correction, Periodic Schedule updates, Budget Variance, and
others. These items memorialize the analysis, by various individuals, of
information gleaned from sources as varied as the mainframe computer systems,
their own experience, and anecdotal knowledge learned from others.
information is acquired, it must be categorized and fit into each of our
personal set of experiences. People who have been at a particular function for
a long time generally know more about that function than those who have just
started performing it. This is so because “veterans” have had time to make
mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to adjust their behavior
understand almost intuitively how best to approach particular problems and how
best to solve them. This is the area in which we develop our tacit knowledge,
our knowledge which we find difficult to put into words, but know deep down.
also has an external dimension and involves such activities as: The writing of
reports and presentations; the compilation of data, specs, or rules, and; the
maintenance of databases, spreadsheets, drawings, and other documents.
Socializing or Sharing
matter what our intelligence and experience, we still need to work with other
people. Although not true of all, most of us do our best, and learn the most,
when we collaborate and work with others. By working together, and sharing our
thoughts and feelings, we are capable of looking at problems and situations
from many different perspectives.
is where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When people
collaborate, they are generally capable of getting more done than when they
work separately. This is obviously true of producing a complex product, and it
is also true of understanding
consists of all the informal ways in which workers interact with each other and
share knowledge. It is the tacit to tacit aspect of knowledge transfer.
Informal email, conferencing tools, even meetings over lunch and before and
after presentations and briefings fit into this category.
Rocketdyne this activity take many forms and, in some ways, continues on
throughout the day. In addition to the ways in which people share information
informally listed above, there are numerous conversations which take place at
peoples’ desks, over a cup of coffee, or during a cigarette break outside the
information or knowledge is captured and set forth in explicit form, it is then
possible for others to benefit from it. This is done, for the most part,
through the reading of reports (however published) and the studying of graphs,
charts, etc. This phase may be characterized as explicit to tacit and leads to
summarizing, orienting, and personalizing of tasks and content.
Rocketdyne, this is done in numerous ways. There are briefings taking place on
a daily basis. There are Corrective Action Boards, Preventive Action Boards,
Material Review Boards, Flight Readiness Reviews, etc. Numerous schedules and
reports are placed on the intranet and each product team has its own intranet
presence. Additionally, every process has an intranet presence.
of how we process knowledge, there remains the question of how we actually
relate to it and its pursuit. Too often, in our zeal to get through the day,
get things done, finish what we started, we fail to take the time to process
what’s happening in our lives or on our jobs. By failing to do so, we rob
ourselves of the sense of wonder and awe which precedes discovery and
invention. A complete approach to Knowledge Management must include an
understanding of the importance reflection and relaxation can play in the role
of innovation. To do so may require entirely new methods of presenting
information to knowledge workers, methods we can only begin to comprehend.
do know this. These methods will undoubtedly spring from the World Wide Web and
the Internet. Already, most large companies are using their intranet more and
more to gather and present the collective knowledge of their organization. Both
Boeing and Rocketdyne have an extensive intranet presence which includes Vision
statements, Mission statements, and items ranging from “Lessons Learned” to
benefits information to product part numbers and the Manufacturing Engineers
responsible for them. There are pages and pages of content devoted to
education, organization, and even Knowledge Management.
is one further dimension of knowledge which needs to be discussed, and that is
the concept of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowledge which cannot be
put into words. Despite the numerous definitions, and the apparent disagreement
of what exactly Knowledge Management is, there appears to be a great deal of
agreement on the type of knowledge which presents the greatest amount of
potential benefit to a business.
IBM states the issue thus, “. . .lots of valuable
knowledge ‘falls through the cracks’ within business organizations, never
finding its way into databases, process diagrams, or corporate libraries. As a
consequence, much of what the firm ‘knows’ remains unknown or inaccessible to
those who need it. Such knowledge is present within the organization, but it
remains hidden, unspoken, tacit. In business organizations, this hidden or tacit knowledge takes one of two forms:
1) knowledge embodied in people and social networks, 2) knowledge embedded in
the processes and products that people create.”
Tacit knowledge, therefore, represents at once both the
most important type of knowledge and the least accessible form of knowledge. It
is invaluable in efficiently carrying on the activities of an organization, yet
is exceedingly difficult to harness in any meaningful fashion. Even when an
organization is able to somehow chronicle the experience of its employees, it
does not follow that it will be capable of passing that knowledge on in a
manner that is both easily accessible and effortlessly assimilable. Two
examples which come to mind from the organization of which I am a part are
welding and scheduling.
of exotic metals, especially for components which will be used in manned space
flight and are, therefore, subject to the most stringent specifications, is
composed of both explicit elements and tacit elements. While the former (the
explicit elements) may be capable of precise, scientific expression, the latter
of these are similar to art. It is not uncommon to find that a welder has
retired and, suddenly, the company is without a person who can reliably perform
a critical weld. Immediately, the company finds itself in a position where it
must either allot a far greater amount of time to accomplishing the weld, or
attempt to lure the retired welder back to perform the weld or to teach a
younger welder how to do so.
second example involves the scheduling of complex, time-phased activities which
include the procurement, manufacture, inspection, and testing of literally
thousands of items used in the manufacture of rocket engines. This task was
performed for years by groups of individuals using hand-drawn Gantt charts. It
is now being performed by individuals using a combination of mainframe software
(e.g. MRPII, OPT21) and PC-based, standalone software (e.g. Microsoft
Project98, Advanced Management Solutions’ RealTime Projects). Experience is
showing that the earlier, more labor-intensive methods were, against all logic,
accomplished with greater accuracy and reliability.
two problems point to the necessity of Rocketdyne’s utilizing one of the basic
elements of Knowledge Management, that of acquiring, retaining, and
disseminating the tacit knowledge, gained through years of experience, of its
workforce. This is not the same as simply cataloguing items such as tools used,
temperatures achieved, lead time per component, and supplier on-time
reliability, nor even placing all this information within easy reach through
the company intranet.
in the definition of tacit knowledge is its ephemeral nature, the difficulty of
conveying things which are understood, at times, only subconsciously or of
which people are only vaguely aware. This, then, is probably one of the most difficult
tasks faced by any organization, given our current state of development in the
field of Knowledge Management.
Working With Tacit Knowledge.
Horvath, Joseph A., Ph.D. IBM
Knowledge Management. What does
it mean? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (on-line edition) defines
knowledge as “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity
gained through experience or association”,
and management is defined as the “judicious use of means to accomplish an
end”. A cursory search of the internet reveals over 120,000 pages which
use the term and, of those who attempt to describe it, there are numerous
Sveiby defines it as “The art of
creating value from an organization’s Intangible assets”.
Knowledge Management News says that it is “. . . about connecting people
to people and people to information to create competitive advantage”.
at its InfoPartner website,
, points to the Virtual Library on Knowledge Management at @Brint.com, where KM
is described as “. . . cater[ing] to the critical issues of organizational
adaption (sic), survival and competence in [the] face of increasingly
discontinuous environmental change. . . . Essentially, it embodies
organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and
information processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative
and innovative capacity of human beings”.
using this definition of knowledge, it becomes apparent that it is not merely a
collection of data or information. The gathering and organization of data,
while useful, is not knowledge. Knowledge requires some intimacy, familiarity,
or awareness. It is a compilation of experience and discovery, and not a
compendium of dry facts.
is useful to make a distinction between four elements of human understanding,
which may be described as data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Data may be
described as “1 : factual information (as measurements or statistics) used
as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation; 2 : information output by
a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant
information and must be processed to be meaningful.”
this definition, it is clear that data, by itself, is of little use to an
organization seeking to find meaning in its activities. Data can be likened to
bricks, which serve no useful purpose when merely stacked in the corner of the
yard, yet provide shelter from the elements when constructed into a dwelling.
It is the construction of the dwelling which can be likened to the definition
of information, which is, inter alia, “. . . the attribute inherent in and
communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of
something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that
produce specific effects c (1) : a signal or character (as in a communication
system or computer) representing data . . . .”
however, as we’ve seen, requires some familiarity or intimacy gained through
experience or association. Using the dwelling example, we might think of
knowledge of our brick house as consisting of knowing how to heat it properly,
or recognizing which windows to open to adequately ventilate it. Knowledge is
not merely the fact (data) that there are windows or heating elements
available, nor even the recognition that opening the windows or turning on the
heat will have an effect (information), but the familiarity with (knowledge of)
their proper use through either trail and error, or from reading a manual or
being taught by a friend or family member.
an organizational setting, knowledge consists of the proper use of information
(composed of numerous data points) for such things as manufacturing operations,
sales forecasting, income reporting and analysis, human resource management,
and all other activities associated with the successful operation of a business
to wisdom, it is not my intention to discuss it, other than to say that without
the wise application of the tools and strategies we are developing, all our
work will be for naught. We can gather all the data available, organize it
until we’re exhausted, yet until we have the wisdom to know what to do with our
findings, we will merely be organizing things in different containers,
oblivious to their true worth, and incapable of take advantage of what they
management then, can be seen as the judicious use of all information and data
gathered by a company as it pursues its vision and seeks to perform its
mission. The success of an organization turns on its ability to properly gather
data and information, organize it in a coherent fashion, and make it both
available and useful to its members (employees).
difficulty, which Knowledge Management attempts to address, is in the process
of organizing and making available all the collective knowledge which will
optimize the capabilities of its resources, whether human or capital.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, hereinafter “Merriam
Webster” [online edition] (accessed 10/28/00); available at
it is called Knowledge Management, knowledge sharing, intellectual capital
management, best practice management, the learning organization, or innovation
management, there are powerful reasons to learn about knowledge and the process
of communicating complex change and ideas in order to achieve rapid action in
their integration into the organization.
are also many reasons proposed for adopting a method of managing the growing
volume of information gathered and accessed by various organizations. While
these reasons are numerous and varied, they generally share some of the same
characteristics. This is true with respect to both governmental and commercial
organizations. Two disparate examples are the Directors of Information
Management of the United States Army on whose website appears a lengthy
presentation regarding Knowledge Management, and the Rochester, New York
SGML/XML (Structured General Markup Language/Extendable Markup Language) User’s
Army’s presentation speaks to two of the basic issues addressed by KM, viz. how
an organization can remain effective in the face of a diminished workforce, and
how that organization can provide some form of logical continuity to its
operations despite the possibility of frequent retirement and turnover.
SGML/XML User’s Group addresses the same general problem the Army faces,
speaking in terms of “Leverag[ing] Work Already Done” and
“Stop[ping] Knowledge ‘Walking out of the door’ “.
These are two of the most critical issues faced by all organizations today, and
have been a continuing problem, the solution of which may now be possible
through the use of new technology and new thinking. Much of the new technology
has become available recently due to the continuing growth and development of
the Worldwide Web and other forms of rapid communication and widespread
dissemination of information.
of tools which are commonly in use today, and which did not exist 5 – 10 years
ago, are search engines, data mining software, the development of portable data
format (pdf) and distillers, Internet and intranet portal sites, desktop
dashboards, and knowledge organizing agents.
are also two basic tracks, or methodologies, with which to approach the concept
of Knowledge Management. The first treats knowledge as an object which can be
identified and handled using information systems. These systems include
artificial intelligence, reengineering, and groupware, among others. The second
track looks at people and their management. To the people involved in this
track, knowledge is seen as processes to be changed and improved 
former is developing rapidly, as new technology comes on line, whether it be
faster processors, wireless communications, new forms of data storage and
retrieval, or new software for organizing and comprehending information and
data. The latter, however, is where the real developmental difficulty lies.
There are several problems inherent in teaching people new methods for
acquiring and, especially, for sharing knowledge.
companies like IBM and Lotus are investing a great deal of time and money in
supporting the move toward Knowledge Management. In a recently published paper,
these two organizations assert that “Knowledge Management will soon
pervade business practices in the same way that eBusiness pervades commerce.
Similar to eBusiness, this trend started out on the fringe of computing and
gained incremental credibility from the successes of early adopters.
to eBusiness, Knowledge Management will play a critical role in corporate
longevity and ultimately distinguish the winners from those companies that
merely survive. It will enable companies to apply their intangible assets, and
in the spirit of eBusiness, revolutionize the way they do business. In fact,
elements of Knowledge Management are already manifest in many successful
eBusiness practices such as electronic procurement where knowledge accelerates
and bolsters the entire procurement process.”
number of organizations, including Universities around the world, which are
discussing, teaching, or extolling the virtues of Knowledge Management are too
numerous to chronicle in so short a paper. To emphasize the point, as of this
writing a search at http://www.altavista.com,
typed in as “why do we need knowledge management” (without the quote
marks surrounding the phrase) produces 1,274,124 pages or “hits”.
those, only the first 200 are available, and my experience is that the last of
the pages will generally not be on point, that is their relationship to the
original search phrase will only be ancillary. In this case, the 198th
page is, although not responsive to the question “why do we need” it,
nevertheless directly on point regarding Knowledge Management. Furthermore, it
isn’t the website of some college kid who has a passing interest in the
subject, it is a page from the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business
organizations whose sites appear in the first six pages of hits are Rutgers
University, Oklahoma State University, the Xerox Corporation, Compaq, and the
Anderson School of Business at UCLA. I believe it can be safely said that
Knowledge Management has come in from the fringe of computing, and is gaining
steam with every day.
Knowledge Management for Mission Success“, [on-line
presentation] 1999 U. S. Army DOIM (Directors
of Information Management) Conference; available at http://doim.army.mil/dc99/presentations.htm; accessed 30 October 2000
Ulbricht, “Turning Information into Knowledge” [on-line
presentation]Rochester, New York SGML/XML
Users Group; available at <http://www.rnysxug.com/> (1999)
Born in 1947, I am an officially retired pensioner who still has two teenage daughters and a desire to contribute. I remain intensely interested in, and fascinated by, Systems Thinking, Machine Learning, Knowledge Management, Decision Intelligence, and Business in general. I am also conversant in such concepts as innovation and ideation, collaborative tools and strategies, crowdsourcing, and the use of social media to accomplish goals ranging from improving business processes to promoting small retail businesses. Since my "retirement" I have done a little bit of freelancing as an editor/proofreader, as well as some technical writing. I've also done a fair amount of Facebook marketing as well.
There's lots more where that came from. Need some help? Perhaps another set of eyes? Contact me. The first one's free! ;0)
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.