learningThis month has seen the production of two very different perspectives on Knowledge Management. The positive view, from APQC, is entitled Using Knowledge Management to Drive Innovation. The negative view, from KM & innovation consultant Patrick Lambe, is entitled The Autism of Knowledge Management.


The APQC report was prepared by a team that includes some of KM’s most articulate champions, including the Center’s president Carla O’Dell, who I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with, and HBS Professor Dorothy Leonard, author of one of the books that put KM on the business map, Wellsprings of Knowledge.

The report was undertaken with the help of about 30 private and public organization sponsors and studied seven organizations, including NASA, 3M and the World Bank, to ascertain the connection between KM and innovation. There were 15 key findings:

  1. Quality KM systems are more likely to improve the efficiency of the innovation process, than to actually produce more or better innovation.
  2. Innovative organizations are challenged with managing more, and more complex, technical, scientific and cross-disciplinary information than other organizations, and KM can improve and streamline this management.
  3. KM tools and repositories are more essential in innovative organizations, and IT plays a bigger and more strategic role in such organizations as a result.
  4. Innovative organizations are more aware of what KM is and the value it delivers than other organization.
  5. (The most interesting finding, IMO) Innovative organizations have a cultural bias against re-using information, which greatly mitigates much of the value that what we currently call KM can bring to such organizations. This needs further exploration, because changing the culture may be impossible, or the wrong answer.
  6. A critical requirement in innovative organizations is Expertise Locators (aha, I’m vindicated).
  7. Because of the importance of cross-functional and trans-organizational collaboration in innovation, social capital (know-who) — not structural capital (know-what) — is their most critical component of intellectual property.
  8. KM was of greatest value when it was pushed out, just-in-time, ‘where the people who need it would trip over it’ (rather than having to go look for it)
  9. Innovative organizations use communities of practice and virtual teaming extensively and explicitly, and allow communities and linkages to form naturally rather than mandating and structuring their organization.
  10. Innovative organizations have explicit awareness programs, best practice and success story identification and publicity programs, and reward systems to achieve knowledge behaviour change.
  11. In recruiting, innovative organizations explicitly seek out people with high creativity, exceptional problem-solving skills and willingness to share what they know.
  12. Innovative organizations coordinate their KM and Learning programs and infrastructure.
  13. Innovative organizations identify strategic external partners and extend the enterprise and its tools and resources to incorporate these partners.
  14. KM infrastructure in innovative organizations has three balanced, coordinated components: Advisory and sponsorship groups, a core ‘Knowledge Centre’ of full-time information professionals, and representation and liaison with knowledge-savvy representatives in all of the ‘internal customer’ business units.
  15. No one has yet to solve the problem of measuring KM success in ways that irrefutably or even compellingly show its contribution to innovation and achievement of organizations’ other high-level strategic objectives.

The executive summary of the report can be downloaded free, and you can buy the complete report from the APQC website.


The Autism of Knowledge Management trashes the KM establishment (including some of the organizations that participated in the IPQC study) for its inward-looking obsession with knowledge content (captured knowledge ‘objects’), and its inadequate attention to improving connectivity and community. He cites Cisco early embracing of the concept of reusable ‘learning objects’, and their abandonment in favour of a knowledge-in-context- through-connectivity strategy. He blames IT and taxonomic thinkers for trying to reduce KM to a mechanical exercise of breaking what we know down into discrete ‘objects’, saying that such an approach is incompatible how we share knowledge and learn.

He then goes on to identify five somewhat overlapping organizational information ‘myths’ that he thinks has led KM in the wrong direction:

  1. The Myth of Reusability — that knowledge taken from one context can be readily re-used in another
  2. The Myth of Universality — that knowledge objects are relevant in all places and times
  3. The Myth of Interchangeability — that pieces of knowledge can be transplanted like computer code into other projects and applications
  4. The Myth of Completeness — that knowledge has value in the absence of a complete (and uncapturable) understanding of how it was used
  5. The Myth of Liberation — that knowledge will decentralize power and authority in organizations, allowing everyone to do what s/he does best

Author Lambe certainly has high expectations of KM. In his concluding section, he states that good KM systems might — perhaps even should — have prevented the World Trade Center attacks, the Challenger disaster, and the spread of BSE (Mad Cow disease) and SARS. To put it mildly, I think that underestimates our capacity for human error, no matter how good the systems we have at our disposal.

The complete paper, and other articles on KM and innovation, are available at Lambe’s Green Chameleon site.


The truth, as is usually the case, is likely somewhere between the APQC’s ebullient optimism and Lambe’s relentless pessimism. Both studies raise some interesting questions about the re-usability of captured knowledge content, and the need for more attention in KM to connectivity and collaboration. But while both reports talk about high-level strategies, neither offers a specific prescription on how to overcome these problems and get KM back on the right track. Until I hear something better, I’m sticking with the Social Network Enablement roadmap I proposed earlier.

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  1. “The Myth of Reusability — that knowledge taken from one context can be readily re-used in another ” ::: Please i would like to know authors views on Why and How on the above (“”) statement.

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