posted 6 Mar 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 6
The dark side
By Jerry Ash
In this column, the champion’s name will be withheld to protect the innocent; the company’s name will be withheld to protect the guilty. But the story is all too real.
The story takes place in Brazil, which became an independent federative republic in South America in 1985 when the military regime peacefully ceded power to civilian rulers. That followed a period of three centuries as a territory of Portugal, followed by intermittent military rule during the past 100 years.
Change has not come easily to this young democracy and our champion’s story reveals that change can occur even more slowly in the workplace. “Since I discovered knowledge management’s potential almost a year and a half ago,” he says, “I became an enthusiast and managed to get the opportunity to engage in some related activities at work, even though there was not a formal KM [knowledge management] programme. But that was okay! As a good ‘KMer’, I adopted the ‘Stealth KM’ philosophy and struggled to achieve at least some results.”
Our champion helped form an inter-departmental community of practice (CoP) that improved corporate processes. The CoP area manager supported the project, but our champion’s own leaders did not. Instead they interpreted the work as ‘publicly confronting the leadership’ and offered our champion two options: “Either go to work in another area and, as they said, ‘without being as I am’, or give up my job.”
Being true to himself, our champion chose to quit.
But prior to his exit, he wrote to the chief executive and gave him an employee’s view of the company’s KM, communications and motivational problems. The chief executive asked him to speak to other senior managers before he left. Or, in our champion’s words: “They spared me.”
Now he works in the human resources department, still unsure of what he should do next. So he asked a network of KM professionals from around the world for their advice. Here are a few of their responses:
Robert Buckman, whose Memphis, Tennessee-based chemicals manufacturer Buckman Laboratories maintains facilities in Campinas, Brazil, mused that the story was typical of many Brazilian companies, but he added: “I would not say it is limited to Brazil or even to Latin America. I know of many in the US with similar attitudes.”
Debra Amidon, founder of Entovation International in the US and principal developer of Knowledge Innovation Zones from Australia to Finland, also emphasised that our champion is not alone. “Most of us have experienced similar obstacles,” she said. “I have learned to work with those who ‘get it.’ Others may never comprehend the real value; and that is their loss.”
Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s’ Letters to a Young Poet, Verna Allee, whose Martinez, California-based consultancy focuses on value networks, shared a letter she penned to a colleague. Here are some excerpts:
Whenever there is a powerful new worldview or consciousness emerging there are a number of reactions to the new thinking. First of all it is ignored. If it still won’t go away then it is laughed at or denigrated in some way. Whatever we do is dismissed as the ‘flavor of the month’ and shows up in Dilbert comic strips… If that doesn’t work and it still won’t go away then… it will get attacked outright… The academics will pick it apart, other consultants will attack it, popular business journals will ‘objectively’ present a totally opposite view or critique, and [decision makers] will say ‘it is just too hard, we are not ready for this and it won’t work here.’
On a few rare occasions your work makes a significant difference by fostering better relationships, encouraging people to play a more compassionate and positive role in the world, sparking a return to deeper human values and supporting healthier behaviours as individuals, as organisations and as nations.
And in a thousand little ways and moments you connect to people along the way, touching each other with shared hope and vision. Those moments are luminous points, like lanterns lighting a sometimes dark path. These little successes and heart connections are great gifts. They bring a deep inner joy that reminds you that the real reason you do this is because it is just what you have been called to do. And quite simply to say ‘no’ to that call would be to deny who you most truly are.”
For every positive story we print in this magazine to prove that KM is grandly possible, there are countless, courageous risk-takers who are jeopardising careers and personal wealth to remain true to their passion in the face of seemingly formidable barriers. Why would they do that? Because KM is not just another management fad. It is an opportunity to improve the human condition and remove the barriers to individual potential.
It is a movement, a quiet rebellion against a dark side that ironically stands to become the greatest winner in defeat.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Knowledge Zone http://www.inthekzone.com
Verna Allee’s letter in full: