office workerI am delighted to have been asked to be this month’s moderator of the online forum Association of KnowledgeWork (AOK) featuring some of the founders of, and some of the brightest and most creative thinkers in, the discipline of Knowledge Management (KM). My subject for the discussion, which runs from March 15 to 26, is officially “Weblogs and other Personal Content Management and Social Networking Tools in KM”, but the discourse is always wide-ranging, so just about anything about KM may be discussed.

If you are interested in this subject, I welcome you to join AOK (sign up here — it’s free), read the introduction to this month’s discussion here, and contribute your two cents’ worth by replying to any of the discussion threads, or starting your own, either by e-mail reply (if you sign up to receive the discussion by e-mail) or by responding on the archive pages. All comments are reviewed and edited by Jerry Ash, AOK’s extremely friendly and competent manager.

Some of the members of AOK are a bit impatient with “technology-obsessed” KM practitioners, so to keep them interested in the discussion, I’m going to broaden the issue to encompass dialogue on the principles underlying my belief that Personal Content Management (PCM) and Social Networking applications are critical to the survival of KM in large organizations. Here are those principles:

Pollard’s Principles of Knowledge Management

  1. KM should be about Front Line Worker Effectiveness: The key ‘value proposition’ for KM must be improving the effectiveness (not the efficiency) of knowledge workers (defined by Drucker as ‘anyone who knows how to do their specialized job better than anyone else in the organization including their boss’ — i.e. almost everyone on the front lines of the organization). In other words, don’t worry about what ‘knowledge’ or ‘knowledge work’ is — as long as what you’re doing improves front line knowledge worker effectiveness, it’s KM and you’re on the right track.
  2. There is an Urgent Need to Improve Front Line KM & IT: If you talk to knowledge workers, they will almost unanimously tell you that they desperately need help in improving their work effectiveness, and that little of what KM & IT have provided thus far has been useful to that end.
  3. Knowledge Workers Don’t Know How to do Knowledge Work: Knowledge workers perceive a crisis of information overload, and feel they do not have the time nor the skills to manage information effectively.
  4. Knowledge is Best Transferred by Conversations: The principal and most effective means of knowledge transfer in organizations is conversations, the best of which are oral and face-to-face, iterative and context-rich.
  5. Everyone Learns, Organizes and Processes Information Differently: Taxonomies, tools and processes that force people to use a different model for doing these things than the one they use naturally, will be resisted.
  6. Most KM & IT Tools are Unintuitive and Over-Engineered: Simpler is better. If you have to teach people to use tools they’re probably too complicated. Best are tools and processes that emulate the natural ‘information behaviour’ and artefacts of workers i.e. mimicking their physical workspace (desk), the physical media (paper), and the processes (conversing, subscribing, stacking, shuffling, filing documents, highlighting, annotating, writing in and crossing out with a pencil) they intuitively use to acquire, process and disseminate information.
  7. Conversations Rarely Include the Best Possible Experts: The risk and cost of misuse (theft, hacking, inappropriate use) of knowledge pales in comparison with the risk and cost of not using the best available knowledge. That includes not knowing who the best experts are (inside & outside the organization), and relying on lesser expertise.
  8. Management Doesn’t Want or Need KM Decision Support: Executives are hired and paid top salaries because they supposedly have the skills, experience, judgement and instincts to make near-optimal decisions quickly. They pride themselves on their ability to make decisions with imperfect information. They use their selected inner circle of advisors as a sounding board. They (mostly) don’t use KM systems. KM is not for them, it’s for the Front Line Knowledge Worker. A major KM challenge is that management is paying for it, but they don’t use it themselves — a hard sell.
  9. Stories are Critical to Knowledge Transfer: More than just examples, stories are a language for translating knowledge between our personal, unique, unfathomable mental models. A good narrative is almost inherently more effective, clearer and more persuasive than a good exposition or a good analysis. If we can teach knowledge workers to tell, and write, good stories, we can massively increase the value of stored knowledge.
  10. Humans are Inherently Poor Collaborators: You can’t just blame poor tools for the lack of progress in virtual and asynchronous collaboration in business, and the failure of team and community knowledge tools and ‘spaces’ to get much traction — at least beyond the short life and limited purpose of specific projects. Business by nature is undemocratic and uncollaborative: The hierarchy exists to reinforce that instructions flow down, work is done by individuals according to those instructions, and the results are reported back up. There is little room (and often little perceived need) for consensus building or any of those warm fuzzy things we are taught to do in Teamwork 101. In fact, most teams exist principally to dole out tasks to their members and aggregate the status and results of that individual work. Even inherently collaborative tasks like editing are usually done sequentially by individuals. If it’s really important to improve collaboration and teamwork in organizations (i.e. if it’s not just a smokescreen by management to make the organization appear more democratic), we’re going to have to fundamentally change the way businesses are organized and operated. You might even have to change our human culture (or at least fire all the males).
  11. Much of What We Do at Home is Also Knowledge Work: The commercial applicability of tools developed to improve knowledge worker effectiveness could also be leveraged for home use. Example: If you want to move videoconferencing out of the stone age, figure out how little Janey in Seattle can use it to chat and play with Grandma in Florida (and remember principle 6).

My argument for focusing KM first and foremost on improving (and simplifying) the Personal Content Management and Social Networking tools available to knowledge workers follows directly from these principles. Without good tools we cannot support effective processes and bring about productive behaviour change.

Inherent, too, in all these principles is the need to stress quality over quantity — we need fewer, simpler-to-use tools with fewer, intuitive functions, and less, better-quality, more useful content.

I am hopeful that much of the AOK discussion will be about principles 4, 7 and 9, because even with best tools in the world, there will remain cultural and learning obstacles to effective knowledge work and effective knowledge transfer. I look forward to seeing you on AOK

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  1. Great Points Dave!I really liked the following”You might even have to change our human culture (or at least fire all the males).”How about Males over 50? Or Males whose testosterone is over a certain level? I hope there are some males who have learned some of the non-corporate, life nurturing, collaborative style.Dewaynehttp://www.shadowcentral.net/

  2. Mark Ranford says:

    Hi Dave, yes your principles are excellent, and I applaud your focus on Personal KM. It has been something that I feel is so obvious and yet so overlooked. Why on earth are we so busy trying to do Organizational KM, when the personal KM we have has so far to go. maybe Im just a poor PKM’er, but I am dying for better ways to manage my own KM. What has definitely recently raised the Personal KM bar much higher is the personal publishing revolution (eg blogs) where we can now share our knowledge so much more effectively, but its more than just sharing, blogging seems to let us improve our own creative processes in many ways because of the way it allows us to work on creating and sharing and linking. Ive recently been pondering what the ultimate personal Content managent System would feel like (actually personal KM system). Like you state it must be simple. I currently feel that current email with better google like search, and RSS reading aggregating, which allows the content creation, and snet with labels to 1 or more blog channels is pretty much a great PCM. Why? Because it provides anyone, with the very familiar email client setting, create both standard emails for a person, or blog texts for one or more blog channels, without them having to visit multiple blogsites to read or generate content. Once the ease of reading and creating ideas and views has reached a certain level at the personal level, then I believe huge steps are made to improve Orgs KM. Essentially without PKM, the knowledge sharing is seriously constrained. Once its let loose, then Org KM can begin to really flourish. Long winded but basically yes, lets put Personal KM first, only then can we really tackle or leverage group KM.

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