Knowledge Managers #Build From Scratch

Walk a Mile

If  you go to a fitness center and sign up for spin class would you trust your instructor if they looked like this?


All too often Knowledge Management “experts” and “consultants” have a great deal of academic experience, theories, data and knowledge but they may lack practical experience and wisdom to understand beyond words the challenges of starting, implementing, maintaining and managing a KM practice.

The broad scope of KM is covered well by Stan Garfield in his posts  on LinkedIn.  The simple thought that KM covers so many areas of thought and practice is fairly astounding.

  1. Best Practice Replication
  2. Best Practice Transfer
  3. Business Improvement Services
  4. Collaboration
  5. Collaboration Systems
  6. Collective Learning
  7. Communities
  8. Digital Enterprise
  9. Digital Transformation
  10. Enterprise 2.0
  11. Enterprise Collaboration
  12. Enterprise Content Sourcing
  13. Enterprise Learning and Collaboration
  14. Enterprise Social
  15. Enterprise Social Network
  16. Insights
  17. Intangible Asset Plan
  18. Intellectual Capital
  19. Intellectual Property
  20. Knowledge and Information Management
  21. Knowledge and Information Sharing
  22. Knowledge and Learning Processes
  23. Knowledge Development
  24. Knowledge Enablement
  25. Knowledge, Engagement and Collaboration
  26. Knowledge Exchange
  27. Knowledge Flow Management
  28. Knowledge Management
  29. Knowledge Processing
  30. Knowledge Publishing and Curation
  31. Knowledge Retention
  32. Knowledge Science
  33. Knowledge Services
  34. Knowledge Sharing
  35. Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration
  36. Knowledge Transfer
  37. Learning and Knowledge Exchange
  38. Learning Communities
  39. Learning from Experience
  40. Management
  41. Organizational Effectiveness
  42. Post-Industrial Knowledge Age Transformation
  43. Performance Management
  44. Radical Connectivity
  45. Social Business
  46. Social Collaboration
  47. Social Learning
  48. Social Media
  49. Social Networking
  50. Tackling Wicked Problems

The number of thought and practice areas are further complicated by the context of “where used.”   In other words,  if you are an “expert” in KM are you a generalist or do you specialize in something like CX (knowledge centered support), knowledge transfer, community etc.

Are you a “polymath’ of KM?

Practical Practice for Practitioner Preachers

The US Navy has a training device called the USS Buttercup 080226-N-4515N-138by the time these sailors found themselves in this very cold and challenging training exercise, they spent a considerable amount of time learning about “Damage Control.”  The navy starts teaching sailors about damage control right from the start at boot camp.   The instructors are generally from engineering fields and are highly trained and experienced with shipboard firefighting, flooding, pipe patching, emergency operations.

Knowing what to do.. is different than doing … and for knowledge management this matters just as much and even more than other fields.


How does this apply to KM?

If you work for a company that sells knowledge management, the expectation is that you practice what you preach.   If you are writing books about knowledge management, the expectation is that you have experience beyond the case study.   If you have a desire to become an knowledge management expert, start “working out”  or better yet “working out loud” and seek out ways to actually practice the trade.

Lead by Example

I personally started on the road to KM through learning about collaboration and collaboration patterns in project management with large geo-dispersed teams.  It wasn’t easy and I think there were a few days that I would have traded for some time in the USS Buttercup.    The reality of asking people to work together, reduce conflict and find ways to communicate, collaborate and cooperate under high pressure, high stress, and and high demand was no easy task.   My team was learning along the way and more often than not we felt there wasn’t enough time to be academically astute.   What we came up with was an agreement and understanding that we needed to work past the 42nd hour .   We had to do the work but also learn the concepts behind it in order to master it.

For every area in the broad umbrella of knowledge management I would find something practical.   I found through some pain and frustration that persistence and clarity of thought and vision (and faith) the most difficult challenges could be overcome.  Here are a few examples of actions you can take to move towards mastery.

  1. As part of my practice, I realize that what I currently believe as “fact” is fungible and may no longer be a fact.
  2. Building trust is the key to success but without having context or purpose around your work, you can’t build trust.
  3. KM should always be tied to business and business should always be tied to people including employee engagement.
  4. If you want to learn about “how to” perform knowledge transfer build something from scratch that you may have some knowledge about but not be an expert in. IMG_0943I built an arcade system with a mix of old parts, new components, hand made pieces and customized software and operating system.   I had to learn how to do some of the work and I had to find experts for software and hardware that is over 30 years old.  In some cases I had to “make stuff up” because what I needed, I couldn’t find or it didn’t exist as I needed it.  (Helps in Knowledge Transfer/ Crew Change / Community)
  5. Always study and learn, I read often and I work hard to take both old and new methods into practice.  John Stepper talks about Dale Carnegie as part of his working out loud concepts.
  6. Practice in house at every level.    When I was an Associate at Booz Allen, my peers would always tell me that I (can’t do) certain things and that what I was working on was not accepted by leadership.   They were thinking about how they felt about their own boundaries not mine.   Knowledge Management as a practice should come from multiple directions, it is an “omni channel” area of thought and business.   Parts of it are viral and parts of it need leadership buy-in and ownership.   It is up to you to make it work and become a leader from where you are.


Knowledge Management is a lot of things to a lot of people but with clarity of thought and context it can be the right information, to the right people at the right time.   It is more than an academic exercise and you don’t need anyones permission to become a master of one or more areas in this field.    At the same time, if you don’t practice what you preach, you may find yourself in the same boat as the 350 pound fitness trainer.











4 thoughts on “Knowledge Managers #Build From Scratch

  1. Thanks for the posting Howie. Using ancient language where “to Know” was used many times was in Hebrew writings. The Hebrew root “yada” translated “know”/”knowledge,” has a wider sweep than our English word “know,” including perceiving, learning, understanding, willing, performing, and experiencing. To know is not to be intellectually informed about some abstract principle, but to apprehend and experience reality. Knowledge is not the possession of information, but rather its exercise or actualization. Knowing requires letting down our fences because we cannot fully know something unless we are in an open and trusting relationship. Without trust, there is no knowledge transfer. Building trust should be the first order of KM’s work and “working out loud” means that you are open to dialog. But some folks only look for ways to put down others (usually thinking it is a way to prop themselves up), you break the trust and it doesn’t matter how many artifacts of KM are in place. Working out loud should not require measured dialog but open and free with no retributions. IMO and I know you agree Howie, if there is trust built within the organization, KM will flourish.


  2. Gosh I miss you Howie. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Wendy recently, and your post is helpful in addressing the very things I’ve been seeking to better understand through our work. I’m glad you started with the long list of KM definitions/categories. I find that establishing a common definition of the term “KM” in any conversation before conducting the conversation is an important first step. I’ve had too many discussions lately that are unproductive because the term has become both specific or terribly vague, depending on who you’re talking to, and about the area of focus. Approaching KM as a collaborative effort, which takes into account business needs (functional, legal), user needs (WIFM, behaviors by segment), and a clearly defined set of objectives and goals is critical. To your point, asking why and how is the place to start. It seems there’s either a “build it and they will come” assumption (usually without gathering business and user insight or collaboration), “checking the box” (we need KM – just do it), generally accompanied by a lack of patience to do the upfront collaboration. Complaints that it takes too long…. When the reason it takes too long is directly due to a lack of prioritization of the upfront work. Wheels spin instead, and the outcome is ineffective. Thanks for posting, love learning from you as always!


  3. This is an utterly priceless post Howie. I can certainly attest to the ground level work when you talk about the collaboration piece of knowledge management across various geographic locations. Each location certainly did have a collaboration pattern which fit their particular needs and work dynamics. It took time to learn the pattern for each geo-dispersed area; add on top of that the time it takes to merge or integrate all of those patterns into one collaboration tool-set or process for everyone to utilize with the nail in the coffin being that ever looming deadline which had to be met; we can certainly say we have walked the mile and then some when it comes to the collaborative and related aspects of KM.


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