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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Prusak's comments on the deadly sins of Knowledge Management

As promised last week (Thursdays post), I am summarising Prusak's comments as to whether the sins are still valid and here they are - slightly long post as I've added my own comments.

Error 1: This is still one big error. A lot of managers and staff confuse information and knowledge - and this situation is aided by people trying to flog IT database solutions to a variety of organisations. Still information only becomes knowledge when we add the human dimension of awareness - to make that jump forward.

Error 2: There has been some progress on this - adjusting Bacon's comments - knowledge be nothing unless it is spread. Knowledge flow is important not the documents in a database. When I did some research on this I found the vast majority of people didn't look for documents in excess of four months old to help them in their day to day work.

Error 3: Prusak felt he would write it differently today. While knowledge is still produced and absorbed by people the distinctions between where the knowledge actually resides isn't always a hanging offence - so long as it is easily available

Error 4: I'll take Prusak's comments in full. "This is as true as ever, even more so with virtuality and all its discontents gaining adherents. Context is a good synonym for knowledge itself, and is best (perhaps only) created through live give and take, etc. It can't be done well, if at all, through email and other e-exchanges". I agree that it can't be done well through e-mail but I believe that if you have trust between people then e-exchanges can work well

Error 5: He feels that too much has been made between tacit and explicit knowledge,. He feels that knowledge is always both tacit AND explicit and I would add also needs to be contextual and relevant to people

Error 6: This one is also still true. KM in general follows pragmatism as a philosophy in not believing in distinctions between knowing and action. Knowledge is important if it is spread and is used by people

Error 7: Prusak comments "Well, anyone who thinks that anti-intellectualism isn't a very strong force in American and UK culture is just out to lunch. If anything it's gotten stronger with the continuous use of varied media like IM, Google, etc. to replace real reflection and serious reading. I travel all the time and in contrast to years ago, I almost never see people reading anything substantial while flying. I'm told by friends who teach MBAs at the "top" schools that they can't get their students to read anything not online."

I'd agree with Prusak's comments as when I talked to senior managers in two organisations there was concern that younger staff did not put the time into reflecting and undertake reading and that people accepted on line information as gospel to be cut and pasted. However as they were both professional service firms with a billable hour model, I did wonder how much encouragement they gave to people to reflect on the work they had undertaken and ways that research was properly recognised or even trained into their junior employees.

Error 8: This is also part of a bigger discussion about how to escape the grip of short-termism in organisations.

This is definitely the case in all organisations that I have studied - will it help me meet my quarterly targets or will it help me meet my billable hour targets. In our busy and time pressured work spaces the danger is that we fall back on the tried and tested that has worked in the past and the problem is that it may not meet the challenges that our customers want us to help them solve.

We need to reflect on the past to help us meet the future - if we are to escape the Santayana paradox.

Error 9: To managers rewarding failure is counter intuitive. But we must do it to have a culture of knowledge growth. How else can any organisation learn if it is afraid to do and think things?

I've lectured on this at a conference this year - if you don't have an organisation that recognises the importance of experimentation and failure and has a risk averse culture then not only is it reducing knowledge flow, it is also potentially cutting off it's chances of innovation.

Error 10: I agree with Prusak that this battle has been won - nobody believes that technology on its own can deliver KM in an organisation. It is a combination of people, process, technology and culture.

I do wonder though if Web 2.0 is the case of the dragon getting out from behind the rock. We can have all the blogs and wikis in the world in our organisations. But unless people want to share knowledge and the internal processes share this then it is unlikely to happen and once again the poor hapless IT department gets blamed for not delivering the promised ROI on an IT investment. Also there is the danger of busy managers using IT as a tick box to deliver KM because it means they don't have to deal with the long term issues of their organisational culture and people management etc etc.

Error 11: Once again, Prusak believes that this battle is won. There is some interesting research into this and it will develop in the future. However one organisation I studied did want me to produce knowledge metrics and didn't appreciate it when I couldn't produce them in terms of £ shillings and pence.

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