KM in The World (For Real)

People have their own way (PKM-Personal Knowledge Management) of managing information relevant to them.

People and Organizations  share information in common ways out of necessity (EKM-Enterprise Knowledge Management). 

Regardless of how we manage information in order to share information in a meaningful and effective way, someone has to be prepared to receive information in an effective and meaningful way.

Hundreds of millions of books a year are sold on parenting, not one of them could prepare me for my children.

I have 4 sons, all of them are different.

My oldest would never touch an electrical outlet because he perceived that it could be dangerous.  (I re-enforced this thinking)

My second oldest generally doesn’t touch electrical outlets but he comes to me for advice prior to plugging something in.  (I support and re-enforce this thinking)

My third child doesn’t care about electrical outlets and may not know they exist.  (I work to remind him that they exist and that he should know what they are and what they do)

My youngest child likes to stick things in electrical outlets.  (I tell him often not to do this)
My children learn in different ways and keep information stored in different ways.  They perceive the world in different ways.   They are very different in a lot of ways.   That being said, there are things that are familiar to them and common messages that are clear to them all.   There are things they understand that are show stoppers in our house.    We are clear and consistent about a lot of messages and the frequency or requirement to remind our children or discuss these things with them will happen at a regular pace with additional discussion for each individual as needed.

The point is that communication and trust are the key foundation for the desired outcome whether in a family situation or business.

There is a certain amount of trust that is established when forming a relationship under any conditions including business.  (Speed of Trust Transformation Process) Stephen M.R Covey

Important Point

You already know.  You already know how important communication and trust are in business and in the context of KM.   Most people know this point so well that they immediately dismiss it as an area that they already have covered.

When looking at KM we have to understand that context (familiar or relevant mechanism of communication) and the data source (trusted or perceptual authenticity) are the key factors in “knowledge transfer.”  I want to point out that most discussions, principles and practices around KM imply these concepts but don’t deep dive into them. (implicit facet of KM)


Dave Snowden has expanded his 3 Rules of Knowledge Management to 7 Principles of Knowledge Management

  1. Knowledge can only be volunteered, it cannot be conscripted.  <– requires trust
  2. We only know what we know when we need to know it. <– requires trusted sources
  3. In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. <– requires belief or trust
  4. Everything is fragmented. <–requires patience and understanding … trust
  5. Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success.<–trust
  6. The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. <–trust and authentic sources
  7. We always know more than we can say, and we always say more than we can write down. <–if you wanted to know more, you would need to go to the source or an authority

In Knowledge Management as a practice there is a requirement of trust and communication.   As a KM practitioner or consultant I could provide the best explicit advice on “how to” move and manage information in a highly effective and contextually relevant way but it won’t make a difference to YOU if there is low trust or poor communication in the business.

I have a friend that worked on C-130 aircraft (big airplanes), he had to climb inside the wing of the airplane to change out a bladder that holds fuel inside the wing of the aircraft.    He had all the tools that you would need to do the job.  He had all of the technical manuals and diagrams that he would have needed to know where things were.

He had all the instructions that were step by step on what bolts to remove in what order.  What was missing? (Example of the space he would have been inside while servicing the air craft)

If the president of his company came out and said ” I trust that you will do a good job” would that be enough?

How did my friend store his technical information?  Does that matter?

How did my friend report that he performed his job? How did he account for his work? How did he know that the job was performed properly?  How did he learn to do what he is doing?

Knowledge Transfer and Trust

It was an overcast day and the hanger bay was wide open to allow as much light in as possible.  Jim started his day by looking through his inventory of tools to make sure that everything he needed would be there.  His company provides a checklist but he has his own system of organizing his tools so that he can visually account for each item as they lay in a certain position in his toolkit.   He was fairly new to this job but had experience working on other types of aircraft that both he and his new company felt would convey to this position.   His new supervisor Shari has over 7 years of experience working on these aircraft and due to her military experience , her physical size and her passion for airplanes she has excelled at working in the tight spaces required to perform this kind of maintenance.

Today Jim will be climbing inside the wing of the plane all by himself.   In his past experience working on smaller planes he had been in tight spaces but never this small and dark.  Shari knew how uncomfortable the space could be and she also recognized the difficulty associated with this task.  The first part of the morning they sat in front of the wing near the engine and had some coffee while discussing the challenges and pitfalls of the job.   Shari also had to call over to the military to get a person to stand a fire watch while they were inside the aircraft.   Calling on the fire watch was something that Shari chose to do as an extra safety precaution from her previous military experience. This isn’t something their company requires but they support it as a best practice.

Jim doesn’t know Shari that well and doesn’t really trust her.  In fact, he finds her attractive and wonders what she is doing working on airplanes.   While he was in the military most women didn’t have roles like this and he has a natural inclination to discount her ability up front.  **say what??**  Now we know that Jim doesn’t trust her because he doesn’t know her and because he has some reservations about her being a woman.    This isn’t about what is right or wrong, this is what really happens.   How would you address this from a KM perspective?  Maybe this is part of the relationship of Knowledge Management and Human Resources?  How an individual performs and feels is important to organizational productivity and resilience.

Regardless of how things seem, Jim is a good guy, he wants to do his job and he is excited about this position.   As we continue, Shari helps him with his protective gear and they both get ready to board the aircraft.


Jim just got hired and the human resources crew ran him through 3 days of training.  Most of the training was about safety, harassment, corporate values,  and controls.  In other words, most of the training is things you don’t do if you work here.    When during his indoctrination training did Jim receive guidance on things he should do?  Knowledge Management starts day one, right away!  Most of the time, organizations are looking to protect themselves from harm but they don’t generally  prepare their employees for KM. 

Both Jim and Shari board the plane and find their way to the wing where they will be doing their work today.   It is a very tight closed and dark space, there are areas that you have to feel because it impossible to physically get into position to see.  There are areas that are uncomfortable to reach because your body is forced into an awkward position.

C130AircraftMan <– Aircraft Manual

C-130 Procedures to Change Fuel Cell <–Checklist

Note: These documents are very clear and explicit but they are not enough.   He would NOT be able to do this job by himself.

Both of them cannot fit into the tank area at the same time, she must talk him through every action through discussion and conversation.

“Hey Jim,  did you feel a notch before the bolt?”   Jim replies “yes, I feel it now”,  Shari replies ” Great!, now position the flat end of your 5/8 bolt tool on that notch to set it in place.”

They continued on to finish the job and shared some laughs over a beer after a long but successful day.


After this experience Jim and Shari will build on their trust.   How did the organization prepare them both for this task?  From a Knowledge Manager perspective,  what information was missing from the technical guide? (any relevant conversion of tacit to explicit)  What about the fact that he couldn’t possibly do this task alone?  Does it matter how he feels about Shari?   What if he thought she didn’t know what she was doing and he was simply going to use his own experience?  What if she didn’t trust him?  What if she didn’t want to share this information with him because she thought her job was at risk? What if she didn’t like him?

How does personal knowledge come into play here?

Shari doesn’t have a lessons learned database and she doesn’t have a best practice playbook.  Her company only requires her to use the checklist and follow safety procedures.   Additionally, her report only requires a listing of the overall task, a validation signature and an explicit test report.   There isn’t an immediate mechanism for feedback on her interaction with Jim.   The company doesn’t see that as part of a cost savings or risk reduction factor.  Of course if Shari has a hard time with Jim, she can report it but in this case there isn’t a scoring or maturity process to show his proficiency level.    Jim will take his lesson learned from this experience and park it in his tacit knowledge bank.   He may take a note and shove it in his tech manual or if the tech volume is electronic, he may have to find another way give himself a message.

More on PKM

Real World KM

Every job has information that is both tacit and explicit.   There are also a great deal of implicit factors that Knowledge Management can’t procedurally account for.   In other words, there isn’t a model or process for everything.   It takes active facilitation and interaction to create a successful knowledge practice.   Knowledge isn’t something you can hold or tie down, it is fluid and dynamic.   To say that we can manage it, is a stretch at best.   We can manage information but we can’t manage knowledge.   What we CAN do, is pay attention to people.

In my scenario with Jim and Shari, the company could have a Community of Action, Practice or Interest that they could have introduced him to during his on-boarding process.   If the company is very small, maybe it is just a team building lunch or an introduction meeting in a comfortable setting.    This is part of KM and there are costs associated with this but there are also great benefits.   If he were more comfortable up front to trust his team, he could be more productive. There are many factors that most organizations overlook.

To be successful in KM, the organization must consider People, Process, METHODS and tools.    I see (PPT) all the time, but if you look at the checklist above think about how you would change the fuel cell of a C-130 and be honest about it.   You need the people and these people create the learning path by providing their methods and a certain amount of their tacit knowledge.


Knowledge Management or the practices associated with KM are tied to every facet of business.  If knowledge is not transferred business will not occur.   Yet, it is like air or water only of high value when we are short on supply.    It is easy to focus on the technological aspects of KM and more challenging to deal with the soft or people areas.    As Knowledge workers, we must continue to raise awareness of KM and the critical role that communication, trust and transfer play in organizational success.   If unchecked,  valuable knowledge will simply be information at rest hidden in someones desk or someones forgotten thoughts.

Questions? Thoughts? Feel free to comment..