Helping non-KM Managers understand how Knowledge is a key part of their success


I have supported RealKM Magazine for a while now and love the content and research they bring to the KM conversation around the globe.

Much of it is powerful and detailed work, often based on research or case studies and I was honoured last week to have them pick up a concept I have been using for over a decade now to explain why KM is so important for the non-KM Managers I work with.  

I have found that executives need to realise results come from teams of people making good decisions based on 1) the knowledge and experience they bring, but also 2) their access to data and information to make sense of the problems they are trying to solve. Many of them get that but seem to believe some sort of magical thinking just makes the results pop into existence! 

This thinking pervades way too much of what counts as management these days, and I have had to find ways to break down that myth. It’s not their fault, you see. I lectured MBA level KM for several years and had to spend the first three weeks of each course undoing the student's indoctrinated beliefs that people are simply little robots operating in a budget-motivated power-economy.

Today I saw this ad appear on Linked In (Names removed to protect the guilty).  What exactly is this trying to say?  

More importantly, WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE? You know? The ones who actually make the decisions?  Are they supposed to simply sign the printed decision reports that come out of the magical AI thinking machine? And who is doing any learning here?

Don't get me wrong. I love data analytics and any techniques that can extend the level of insight our decision makes have. Our state is currently run by a Premier that I have very little respect for, yet his dogged insistence on responding to COVID based on research, data and modelling has really impressed me very much. Humans are very bad at understanding things that are really big, really small, very fast or very slow. Data helps us visualise past our natural limits. But that does not lead to decisions unless our decision makers have the capability (both as individuals and teams) to process this in the context of their environment (and in fire-fighting that also means the emotions and stress of the moment) to create high-value outcomes. We need both information and knowledge, and explaining knowledge this way seems to help people get a grip on that.

Knowledge is way more that just stuff we remember (in our trade we call that implicit knowledge). It is the sum of who we are as both individuals and teams based on what we can actually do! More than that it only exists if we have the courage to do it. I like the saying "We don't hold tacit knowledge, we are made of it!", and so I describe knowledge in organisations like this:

"Knowledge is the capability of an individual or team to process new information and data
then make decisions and take actions that create value."

I have been asked why the word "capability" and not "ability". It's a good question and the difference is really important.  An ability is something you can do. It could be equated with a skill or competency. A capability seems something less at first "Little Johnny has the capability to be so much more, he just doesn't try hard enough".  However in the context of knowledge, the word capability indicates that the person or team is capable of creating a positive outcome, even when they don't have the skills or resources immediately available.  It indicates resilience and the ability to create new knowledge on the fly, either through experimentation, communication with experts or access to new information. Knowledge is definitely the greater capability not just the simple things a person is currently trained for.

How do you explain the part knowledge plays in helping your organisation achieve it's goals?

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williams family said…
Thanks Stu. The elevator speech I use for KM is that it is 'the management processes through which organizations increase the value they generate from their human and social capital'. I don't consider it a capability in itself but an activity or discipline that is a key component of all of an organization's capabilities. It may also be a service but I think it is better considered as an activity that we all do within an organization, similar to people, finance or resource management. We may have a person or team that champions or leads the discipline (as CFO's do with financial management) but a distributed model beats centralized hands down day for effectiveness.