posted 22 Jul 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 10
The knowledge: Rory Chase
Many practitioners, especially the pioneers who have been led to KM through a career of unexpected twists and turns, possess the kind of broad eclectic backgrounds that best serve the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge work.
The career of Rory Chase, managing director of Teleos and the brain behind the highly sought after global and regional MAKE Awards, contains a series of detours and lessons learnt that proves the point.
Rory’s bachelor’s degree in physics was supposed to help him gain employment in the
Career Detour One involved more education, culminating in a master’s degree in information science, with a specialisation in the new field of online databases and search/retrieval techniques.
“I find it interesting,” Rory says, “that many KM practitioners have educational backgrounds in science, especially physics and/or library science. A combination of scientific enquiry, problem-solving and knowledge retrieval/dissemination seems to provide a useful foundation for a career in knowledge management”.
His next 12 years were spent managing a large industrial library in a Fortune 500 engineering and manufacturing company. During this time he gained new insights into how managers, engineers and researchers seek knowledge, innovate and collaborate.
During this time he was involved in creating an internal knowledge management system, and during the early 1980s, in developing a commercial manufacturing knowledge database hosted by BRS Search. These experiences in developing content for online searching, and understanding the human behaviours associated in the acquisition, synthesis and dissemination of knowledge, have been put to good use throughout his KM career.
Career Detour Two came in the mid-1980s. Like much of the
He decided to make a career detour to
(Learning lesson #1 – failing to compete on knowledge can lead to disaster. The former company headquarters of the Fortune 500 company where he worked was torn down and is now a shopping mall.)
His assignment to create an online database of journal content came to a sudden end with the acquisition of the private British company by a much larger private German academic publishing company. Rory says: “After 18 months of hard work I was informed by the new German owners that the online database project was cancelled because it was not going to be a viable commercial product.”
(Learning lesson #2 – never underestimate how the knowledge economy will evolve. The private German publishing company failed to keep up with its customers’ needs and now is part of a much larger European publishing company – a world leader in online content databases!)
In search of another job, Rory was offered a position as an editor, and eventually managing editor, in the company’s business and magazine division. Career Detour Three provided him with an opportunity to gain valuable global experience and to track emerging trends in international management and manufacturing tools and techniques. During this period he became involved in launching new practitioner magazines in the emerging areas of total quality management, benchmarking, service quality and new product development.
In the early 1990s, he led a management buyout of the publishing company and became its managing director, CEO and president, with special responsibility for developing new magazines. Years of trend spotting helped him to identify knowledge management and intellectual capital management as two areas of growing international interest and market potential.
In 1997, he founded the Journal of Knowledge Management, followed in 2000 by the Journal of Intellectual Capital. He continues to be the editor for both of these internationally-recognised journals.
Career Detour Four occurred in 1997 and was the result of a combination of several events. First, after running a company of knowledge workers for five years, he discovered he had very little time to be a knowledge worker himself.
Due to his wife’s illness he discovered that he could work from home due to new emerging technologies, such as the internet and e-mail. And, after several months of reflection he decided to sell the publishing business and start a private advisory firm – Teleos (from the Greek meaning holistic) – which would help businesses to create and sustain knowledge-driven strategies.
“I discovered from the outset that knowledge management is complex and influenced by individual and organisational behaviours and cultures, leadership, business sector/industry, national/regional economies and technology,” Rory recalls. “In the late 1990s, there were few organisational KM role models and case studies. Also, knowledge exchange and KM benchmarking across business sectors and regions were quite rare.
“In order to identify KM organisations as role models and to facilitate benchmarking, in 1997 I created the Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises (MAKE) research program,” says Rory. The MAKE(sm) framework and studies have become an established benchmark for the identification of organisations that are leaders in the knowledge economy. Global, Asian, European, and North American MAKE studies are conducted annually. Teleos also supports annual MAKE studies for
One of the unexpected results of the MAKE studies has been a constant stream of enquiries regarding how to exchange knowledge best practices with leading knowledge-driven organisations, especially in different industries and regions. In 1999, Teleos founded The KNOW Network, a web-based community of leading knowledge-based organisations dedicated to networking, benchmarking and sharing best knowledge practices and leading to superior enterprise performance. Over half of the 2007 Global MAKE Winners are members of The KNOW Network.
Rory Chase, through a serendipitous career, has ended at the front and centre of the knowledge phenomenon. His reflections are worth knowing.
Reflections: KM under many nomenclatures
“Upon reflection, I have been a knowledge worker all my life, but unlike many leading KM practitioners featured in The Knowledge profiles, I have never had the word ‘knowledge’ in my job title,” Rory reflects. “I suspect it is only a small minority of KM practitioners who are officially recognised as such.”
For many people labels mean everything and nothing. I think knowledge management falls into this category. I personally have never liked the label ‘knowledge management’ and have preferred to use either ‘knowledge-driven strategy’, ‘knowledge-driven organisation’ or ‘managing knowledge’. Last year I was speaking at a conference with Professor Ikujiro Nonaka and during a break we exchanged views on KM. I found it interesting that Professor Nonaka didn’t favor the KM label either. From his early work on the Knowledge-Creating Company he is now talking about ‘knowledge-driven management’ as his term for KM.
The KM label does seem to have a solid hold in academia and to a lesser extent in government departments. Also, KM is still the preferred label for many Asian companies. I, therefore, expect the KM label will be around for years to come. That said, in Western countries there is a distinct trend to replace KM with Web 2.0, social networking, collaboration, innovation, organisational learning, knowledge sharing, and a number of other ‘new’ labels. The knowledge strategies and processes will be the same – they will just be called something different than KM in the West.
It has been nearly 20 years since what is now understood as KM first appeared in American business. The early period focused on knowledge sharing and collaboration (for example, communities of practice). Around the year 2000 there was a shift, especially in the
More recently, the focus has been on improving innovation and new product development capabilities (for example, open innovation). I think we are now entering a new phase and there are two strands: social networking (a new mechanism for knowledge sharing and collaboration) and intellectual capital management. It is my opinion that intellectual capital management is going to pay off with large competitive rewards for those knowledge-driven organisations which can harness this new management strategy.
I spend a considerable amount of time in
However, younger Western knowledge workers as well many in the Asian workforce have grown up with the internet and mobile technologies and their first source of knowledge is not the legacy KM has found in the West, but through social networking of friends and peers, or internet sources such as the Wikipedia. What I am observing in
My early training as a scientist led me to view the world from a process point of view. People were involved, but often they just got in the way of understanding how to optimise a process. As I have become older, and hopefully have gained greater insights, I have come around to the people point of view. The most efficient process will fail if people don’t understand how it works or if they lack the training to make the process work efficiently. Therefore, I now always try to view KM from the people perspective.
Finally, I have come to firmly believe – but confess not to totally understand – the critical importance of paradox in the success or failure of KM. The West has developed based on a Greek logic view of the world. This view consists of linear progress based on yes-no, black-white, right-wrong, etc. The East is based on paradox and consists of spirals and circles, no beginning and ends, uncertainties rather than certainties, and the impossible being possible. I am coming around to an understanding that some of the greatest benefits from what we call ‘knowledge management’ will be gained by creating knowledge strategies and approaches based on paradox thinking.
Rory Chase – firstname.lastname@example.org, Teleos / The KNOW Network - www.knowledgebusiness.com