posted 28 Mar 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 7
KnowledgeWorks: KM maxims
Rules to live by, maybe...
By Jerry Ash
Verna Allee recently moderated a STAR Series Dialogue for the Association of Knowledgework (AOK) with the aim of producing a list of fundamental maxims about knowledge management (KM), applicable regardless of players, time or place. After all, the formal practice of KM has been proceeding for a couple of decades, while thought leaders and practitioners have been engaged in rich knowledge exchange about their experiences. Surely there have been some activities and lessons that have proved to be true, each and every time?
Steve Denning and a couple of his colleagues at the World Bank started by trying to test some beliefs in emerging ‘rules of KM’ with the AOK group five years ago and learned that, while certain practices were becoming more frequent, there were no absolutes. But this time it seemed certain that maxims such as ‘knowledge is personal’ and ‘knowledge seeks communities’ would be universally accepted truths.
Yet neither of these apparently straightforward ‘maxims’ went unchallenged.
Several advanced the belief in a ‘knowledge is personal’ maxim. Garry Cullen, ikonnect Facilitator at property group Lend Lease in
Scott Shaffar of defence contractor Northrop Grumman and Bruce Karney of computer maker Hewlett-Packard both opined that people were the number one source of knowledge and, since it is a mental process, KM is therefore people management.
But Peter Marshall of consultancy Helix Commerce in the
Bill Hall of Tenix, Australia’s largest defence contractor, cited the work of Karl Popper (1902-1994), an Austrian/British philosopher and professor at the London School of Economics, who identified three worlds of knowledge: physical reality, personal knowledge and codified knowledge. [see KM University, page 12]
Peter West, a senior consultant at Continuous Innovation in
“We are all specialists in our own little areas,” said Michael Heaney, a director of consultancy Benchwhistler Associates in the
Two weeks of e-mail produced more than 100 entries for a maxim list; impossible to summarise in a short column. Verna thought the closest to a summary was contained in the 27 maxims based on the experiences of Stan Garfield, of services supplier SAIC. They included:
Connection not collection;
The sooner you can try out an idea the better;
Be inclusive in community membership;
People are reluctant to speak up;
People would rather talk than fill out reports;
People jump on bandwagons;
Downsizing mainly affects people with the most knowledge;
Survivors [of downsizing] are often less valuable.
Although e-mail discussions are informal, Alex Bennet, a consultant with Mountain Quest in the
“In fact, the field is continuously emerging rather than being designed or planned. As the KM field adapts to the needs of individuals, organisations and the world at large, it will likely continue to take on many forms and functions, as any surviving complex adaptive system does.”
And so, we have no universally approved or practiced rules or even maxims to offer you. Rules and maxims will probably forever lie in the eyes of the beholders. Most will bear the truth and have the meaning their sponsors assign to them and they will always help those who use them to present KM in the context of the moment. Huzzah!
AOK members have access to the full archives of the STAR Series with Verna Allee and nearly 60 other dialogues held over the past five years. Join AOK at http://www.kwork.org
Jerry Ash is a special correspondent for Inside Knowledge and founder of the Association of Knowledgework (http://www.kwork.org). He can be contacted at email@example.com