Why knowledge management failed

knowledge by Parksy1964
A Better Way to Manage Knowledge:
[Via HarvardBusiness.org]

We give a lot of talks and presentations about the ways and places companies and their employees learn the fastest. We call these learning environments creation spaces — places where individuals and teams interact and collaborate within a broader learning ecology so that performance accelerates.

During these discussions, it’s inevitable that somebody raises their hand. “Wait a minute,” they say, “isn’t this just knowledge management all over again?”

It’s an understandable concern. Knowledge management, after all, was probably the hottest topic in management in the 1990s. “If only our company knew what our company knows” was the mantra in those days. With knowledge becoming the most important factor of production, surely competitive success awaited those companies that could effectively manage what their employees knew.

But we all know by now that despite massive investments and a lot of highly motivated people knowledge management in some instances didn’t yield all the benefits it could have. The best KM systems succeeded at capturing and institutionalizing the knowledge of the firm. But for the most part the repositories and directories remained fragmentary and the resources didn’t get used. The folks with the knowledge were often reluctant to put what they knew into the database. The folks seeking the knowledge often had trouble finding what they needed.

Moreover, in their quest to capture what the firm already knows, most knowledge managers lost sight of the fact that the real value is in creating new knowledge, rather than simply “managing” existing knowledge. In this fast moving world, what we know — our “stocks” of knowledge — depreciate faster than they used to. So we've got to keep creating new knowledge in order to keep pace.

Most of us, as individuals, know this. That’s why we’re not keen to spend time entering our latest document into a knowledge management system. We know we’re better off engaging in the interactions and collaborations that create new knowledge about how to get things done.

In these circumstances, the last thing the world needs is another knowledge management scheme focusing on capturing knowledge that already exists. What we need are new approaches to creating knowledge, ones that take advantage of the new digital infrastructure’s ability to lower the interaction costs among us all — ones that mobilize big, diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.

We’ve found in our research into environments like World of Warcraft (WoW) that new knowledge comes into being when people who share passions for a given endeavor interact and collaborate around difficult performance challenges. Most long-time gamers, for instance, figured it would be months before anybody made it all the way through the many difficult performance “levels” involved in The Burning Crusade, the World of Warcraft extension released in 2007. But a French player named Gullerbone did so little more than 28 hours after the extension was released. His accomplishment made headlines in the gamer world.

Gullerbone succeeded by taking advantage of the tools and resources available to him (and his “guild” of teammates) in the vast creation space that has emerged within and around World of Warcraft. Creation spaces emerge from a careful recipe of participants, interactions, and environments blended by insightful designers. And they succeed where knowledge management fails.

Why? Because these creation spaces, heavily relying on shared network platforms, provide tools and forums for knowledge creation while at the same time capturing the discussion, analysis, and actions in ways that make it easier to share across a broader range of participants. Soon after Gullerbone and his guild figured out how to get through the new performance levels of the Burning Crusade, the details about how they did it soon became widely available in the social media “knowledge economy” surrounding the game — videos, blogs, wikis, etc.


Knowledge management is really a misnomer.

What most companies called knowledge management was actually information management. It was just a way for them to capture tacit information held by the employees and make it explicit. That is something companies are very good at but not how knowledge is created.

It is through the interconversion of tacit and explicit information that creates knowledge, which is the ability to take an action.

Employees see little value to their workflow by providing information to the company without any really effective enhancement to the workflow. People want knowledge in exchange for their information. Knowledge management tools were great at collecting information but very poor at yielding knowledge. They did not permit the easy interconversion of tacit and expiicit information, nor facilitate its exchange with others in the community. These are requirements for any sort of real knowledge creation.

It is through social interactions that information becomes knowledge.t That is how we evolved. Information management systems can be useful but people care about knowledge, as that helps them make a decision. The decision might be as simple as making a change in their workflow to use the new ‘knowledge management’ system.

Now, people will participate when there are direct benefits. Blogs and wikis have great benefits for a worker. An emergent property of this is that the community sees the information and can easily transform it into knowledge. That is because, as opposed to almost every knowledge management system, Web 2.0 technologies map almost one-to-one with human social networks, yet provide benefits unattainable before. One example is being able to carry on a conversation without having to occupy the same place at the same time.

These authors know this:

This focus on knowledge creation shifts the motivations of participants. Knowledge management systems desperately try to persuade participants to invest time and effort to contribute existing knowledge with the vague and long-term promise that they themselves might eventually derive value from the contributions of others. In contrast, creation spaces focus on providing immediate value to participants in terms of helping them tackle difficult performance challenges while at the same time reducing the effort required to capture and disseminate the knowledge created.

Creation spaces have the potential to generate increasing returns — the more participants that join, the faster new knowledge gets created and the more rapidly performance improves. They bring into play network effects in the generation of new knowledge. In contrast, traditional knowledge management systems are inherently diminishing returns propositions. Since existing knowledge is by definition limited, it requires more and more effort to squeeze the next increment of performance improvement as existing knowledge gets more broadly distributed.

Capturing information is easy and was the low hanging fruit that many so-called knowledge management systems used. It failed at creating knowledge mainly because it did not leverage the social aspect in worthwhile ways.

But, providing immediate benefits to the employees, while providing social links for others in the community, permits simple human nature to take over – the need to connect and transform information into knowledge.

The companies that recognize this – that create systems that permit their employees to easily create knowledge using social network paradigms that go back to our primate beginnings – will be the most adaptive to disruptive innovations.

They will succeed where others fail.

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The year’s first great read

[Crossposted at A Man with a PhD]

number 1 by Mrs Logic

The Scale Every Business Needs Now:
[Via HarvardBusiness.org]

Beancounter 1: “Our new widgets business — we think it’s amazing”.

Beancounter 2: “We’ve ridden the learning curve, the product mix is optimized, the supply chain’s streamlined, the market’s tightly segmented.”

Beancounter 3: “But we’ve got a burning question for you, Umair — will it scale?”

UH: “You know what doesn’t scale? The point. Dudes, welcome to the 21st Century. It’s so not about pushing more toxic junk at people.”

Beancounters 1, 2, and 3: (enraged, attack UH with pitchforks).

That’s what happened to me not so long ago in one of the anonymous boardrooms of the universe. And it’s happened quite a few times over the last few months. So in the interest of my own personal safety, let me explain the scale every business should strive for today.

Here’s what the economic historians of the 23rd Century are going to say about the 20th.

“They built giant, globe-spanning organizations, that employed tens of thousands of people working around the clock, to produce… sugar water, fast food, disposable razors, and gas guzzlers. Perhaps the defining characteristic of the paradigm of 20th Century capitalism was its astonishing lack of ambition. Rarely in history has such a void, a poverty of imagination been so deeply woven into the fabric of humankind’s economic systems.”


Some of these ideas may be too radical but I really think that a big problem in the biotech arena is too little ambition. Start-ups no longer dream of changing medicine. They dream of a Big Pharma buy-out. And VCs act as enablers.

The big ambitions actually beats in the hearts of many non-profit research institutions. They want to change the world, ridding it of centuries old scourges in ways that can change cultures. Their ambition scales so nicely that it may really be successful.

And the companies that recognize this will be able to tag along, making a lot of money on the ambitions of the non-profits.

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A great primer on the diffusion of innovation

innovation by etcname
I Should Have Majored In Psychology:
[Via Chuck’s Blog]

Way back when, I thought it useful to do two courses of study. I wanted that CS (computer science) degree, but the whole topic, while fascinating, seemed so self-contained.

At the time, I thought adding coursework in economics was the right thing to do. Even way back in the late 1970s (yes, I’m that old), I could see the two interweaving in very interesting ways.

I was wrong. I should have chosen to add in psychology rather than economics.

Because — at the end of the day — I’m finding that success with technology has more to do with how people perceive things rather than the hard facts we all work with every day.

Ever Rolled Out A Big IT Project?

I have. Several times, as a matter of fact. And — each time — I spent an inordinate amount of time lining up approval and support for what I was proposing to do.

The least of my problems was making sure the darn stuff worked as expected. My most daunting challenge was usually changing perceptions with hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people who had a vested stake in the outcome.

If you work in IT, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion — the technology will probably be ready far in advance of people’s willingness to embrace it.

Accelerating Change Creates Value

I’m not just talking about IT here — I’m talking about any leadership role in a large organization. To create unique value, we have to change the way we do things. The faster we can change and adapt, the more value we create for our organization and our stakeholders.

And — more often than not — it’s people’s perceptions that stand between where we are — and where we’d all like to be.

A while back, I was chatting with people who put together MBA coursework. Since I tend to work with freshly minted MBAs here at EMC, they wanted to know what I found missing.

My answer was pretty clear: they need at least some sort of background in behavior psychology if they expected to be successful in any organization.

After all, organizations are nothing more than collections of people.

And If You’re In Marketing

I don’t see how anyone could be successful in any form of marketing these days without a deep and empathetic understanding of the human psyche, and how it manifests itself in your target audience.

Yes, showing ROI and “business value” is essential. But I’d offer that’s just table stakes. There’s so much good technology out there today that there are many ways to solve a given enterprise IT requirement.

Worse, when we as vendors come up with something new and interesting (as is frequently the case at EMC) but is a departure from conventional thinking, it takes an inordinate amount of time to get people comfortable with the new approach.

People will often say things like “well, we need time for the technology to mature”. Fair enough. But more often, I’m thinking it’s less about the technology, and more about time needed to have perceptions change.

One of the most frustrating recent examples for me personally was enterprise flash drives. EMC launched them at the beginning of 2008. They worked absolutely perfectly at the time. But adoption was slow, mostly because it was an entirely new idea.

Adoption started to pick up dramatically during 2009. Not because the technology was any better — it was simply that people had gotten more comfortable with the concept.

Since EMC’s business model involves investing a lot in new and disruptive technologies, this inherent psychological barrier to “something new” is often front-and-center in my mind.


Read the whole thing. This is a great discussion by someone on the ground, detailing ow hard it can be to get people to adapt to new technology.

Different organizations have different rates that innovation diffuses through them. Many do absolutely nothing to facilitate this diffusion in any way. It just happens by essentially ad hoc means.

I’ve written about how change and innovations traverse a community. A better way to facilitate such things is to put disruptive innovators and mediating early-adopters in place to evaluate new technologies. That is what they are really good at and actually enjoy. If they see the value, especially the mediators, they can often speed up the rate the new technology diffuses.

Usually, however, the people in this position are from the middle, the Doers, who really do not like the uncertainty and disruptive effects on their workflow by the introduction of novelty. They are the most hesitant to accept innovation unless informed by the relevant mediators.

But, the organizations that understand human social behavior, that put the right people in the right spots to actually evaluate and evangelize new technologies in a community, will be the ones that succeed. They will not only be able to leverage new technology faster, they will be more resilient and able to deal with failure.

Because, after all, failure is just another change. and organization that deals well with change will have little to fear from failure because it knows that is a faster route to success.

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Things that change and those that do not

How Heartfelt Marketing Delivers:
[Via chrisbrogan.com]

Dave Delaney and the Griffin Tech CESBound Project

Dave Delaney and his company, Griffin, put on quite a great little project with CESBound. They took an old VW bus, after hours, and restored it, and then drove it from Nashville all the way to Las Vegas for CES. Along the way, they made media, met friends, told stories, shot photos, froze a bit, played music, and had a blast.

When they arrived at CES, the thing they kept hearing (and I heard it when I visited the booth, too) was, “Man, it’s so cool that you restored this bus and took it on a huge road trip. That’s so much more genuine than renting a nice car and putting it in the booth.

The side of the van was covered in little Polaroid photos from the road trip. The back of the van was playing some of the CESBound TV episodes. Everyone around the bus, whether they were from Griffin or not, seemed really happy.

Dave and the whole rest of the team (we know Dave because he’s one of us, but there’s also Melanie Pherson and tons of other names that Dave or someone will add when they see this post) really did a lot to make the >Griffin Technology CES story into more than just a company selling iPhone and iPod accessories.

Luchador of Griffin

They made a special site, CESBound.com. They befriended the VW community via some forums, where they were told that, when the bus breaks down, someone will come and help them out, no matter where they are in the country. They did all kinds of gatherings and other on-the-road relationship building on the way to the event.


This is a nice example of how the creativity of people who have a vested interest in an organization can be harnessed in completely novel ways. New technologies now allow the end users with the most passion to create the materials they need, without having to rely on outside vendors.

Using photos, videos, the web and more Griffin produced something quite novel, something that helped demonstrate their brand as well as show what a ‘fun’ company they are.

But, while these technologies allowed them to produce material cheaper and more directly, the success of this project really still depended on how they connected with other human beings. They needed to create, activate and stimulate human social networks in order for this to be a successful project.

As Chris mentions, they connected with a wide variety of people, including many who would not be at all interested in an electronics convention. They extended the reach of their social networks and produced a project that almost markets itself, with continuing connections as people find their website.

What this tells me is that Griffin listens to its innovative talent instead of ignoring their disruptive actions. This is really necessary for an organization that has to remain nimble and resilient in an industry that changes daily. Being able to leverage its own internal creativity increases the chance that Griffin will continue to be successful.

Being able to use technology to enhance social interactions is a given these days. But having the organization that successfully takes its own creativity and extends it with technology is rare. It requires a set of management tools that are not well codified in many MBA programs.

It seems to me, though, that Griffin is one of those rare companies.

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The key question

Transformation, not technology:
[Via Jon Stahl’s Journal]

It occurred to me yesterday that the real challenge we[1] face is not the question of “how do we apply technology tools to organizations?” but more “how do we help organizations & people transform themselves so that they are more able to harness the power of technology?”

[1] “we” = those of us standing astride the worlds of technology and social change.


There is really not much more to add to this. I believe this can be accomplished by helping the organizations to diffuse innovations more rapidly. The rest will follow.

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Data is useless without us

 62 153893226 C18E14A7A3 by NightRPStar
In science, data is nothing without purpose:
[Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

In an article on TechFlash, a VC, talking about trends in 2010, had this to say while talking about increased IT needs in cleantech and biotech

Both areas are generating terabytes of data and it is no longer just about science — it is about digesting mountains of data.

For some reason that statement scared me. Digesting mountains of data is all about the science. If we forget that, we are in big trouble. Yes, from a pure technology perspective it is about digesting mountains of data, but (a) that has to be looked at in the context of science (sense-making?), and (b) the digesting is a necessary pre-requisite to getting to the science. You really don’t have much of a choice, but if you forget about the science, you will end up with noise, a whole lot of it.

My advice to all the VCs out there is simple. Yes, life science is increasingly data intensive, and to make any sense of that data, you need to look at computing as a core aspect, but never lose sight of the fact that collecting all that data has a purpose, understand our molecular machinery and figuring out how we work, and what makes us stop working properly. If we forget that, a lot of money is going to get wasted.


Data just exists. Human interaction with data provides context, transforming the data into information.

Concentrating on the data does us no good at all. Finding better ways to store it might be useful but without putting a lot of work into being able to extract the data for human purposes, it is useless.

We need better ways for humans everywhere to interact with the data so that we can deal with the inherent information created.

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Finding the innovators

201001061223by Christiиa
10 Ways to Recognize the Innovators In Your Organization:
[Via BIF Speak]

Can you recognize an innovator when you meet one? In his latest Mass High Tech column, BIF founder Saul Kaplan offers the 10 behavioral characteristics he uses to recognize an innovator. “If the game is to identify and connect the innovators, how do you identify them and ensure that they have the resources and freedom to innovate?” After years of honing his targeting and selection process, here are Saul’s first five traits:


The original article is very important to read. The 10 ways are a useful measure but it also says this:

I used to think we could convert everyone to be an innovator or create a culture in which everyone could innovate. I have changed my view after many years as a road-warrior consultant and innovation junkie. Proselytizing doesn’t work. People are either wired as innovators or they aren’t. The trick isn’t to create more innovators; it is to identify them, connect them together in purposeful ways, and give them the freedom to innovate. A leader’s job is to create an environment where innovators can thrive.

While there are times when almost anyone can innovate, but some people are just ‘wired’ to produce and spread new ideas. They just have to do that and an organization that can identify them and harness their ingenuity can adapt much more rapidly than a group that does not.

If their innovative talents are not harnesses, they often simply disrupt the ability of the majority of the company to actually do their jobs. Because, at its heart, innovation is disruptive.

Here is the list of 10 ways to identify innovators:

1) Innovators think there is a better way.
2) Innovators know that without passion there can be no innovation.
3) Innovators embrace change to a fault.
4) Innovators have a strong point of view but know that they are missing something.
5) Innovators know innovation is a team sport.
6) Innovators embrace constraints as opportunities.
7) Innovators celebrate their vulnerability.
8) Innovators openly share their ideas and passions, expecting to be challenged.
9) Innovators know that the best ideas are in the gray areas between silos.
10) Innovators know that a good story can change the world.

While these are traits are those found with innovators, they do not really help identify them when simply looking at a group of employees. Saul’s article provides a hint for separating the innovators from the rest of the group of employees.

It is not important or even possible to have everyone in an organization be innovative. In fact, most of the people in an organization should not be focused on innovation. Rather, they should be focused on delivering results within the current business model. These are the motivated and valued individuals committed to making quarterly numbers and annual business objectives. There is nothing wrong with that, and those individuals must be highly valued in any organization. They are people who get stuff done. They should not be made to feel like second-class citizens just because they are not innovators. Without them there would be no resources to invest in innovation.

In my discussion of the diffusion of innovation through a community, I mentioned the work of some researchers such as Everett Rogers. He splits an organization into 5 groups based on how rapidly each adopts innovations and change. These groups were innovators, early adopters, early middle, late middle and laggards. But I like to rename them.

The word ‘innovator’ has some very positive conotations. People don’t like being told they are not innovators and made to feel like ‘second-class citizens.’ I tend to view each group more by what they do and how the community views each group.

The majority of people, those in the middle, have several characteristics that are identifiable but the easiest to see is that they are Doers. As Saul mentions, ‘they get stuff done.’

Innovators, who usually make up 3-5% of a community, love new things and are always advocating change. They are necessary to any organization the deals in innovations but they are generally very disruptive to the doers.

Innovators keep coming up with things that changes a Doers’ workflow. Often they love new things simply because they are new, not necessarily useful. It is harder to get things done when someone keeps suggesting changes.

Doers do and innovators disrupt. This is partly the reason why the community rarely views innovators as people to listen to. Disruption, while often necessary, often makes a Doers’ life harder.

For innovations to move from the Disruptors to the Doers, there needs to be thought leaders, the early adopters, who act a really good mediators between the innovations of Disruptors and the work of Doers. In fact, the ability of innovative communities to function well, there have to be enough of these mediators. Without them, the Disruptors and Doers have a very dysfunctional relations.

These Mediators are also viewed as the thought leaders of the community, the ones whose opinions are listened to, often because they are so good at filtering disruptive innovations.

So, it can be somewhat easy to find the innovators (Disruptors) by simply asking the majority (Doers) who disrupts their work the most with ideas. Then using the 10 ways that Saul delineates will be very helpful in separating the truly innovative from those who are merely time-wasters.

These Disruptors, however, need to work through the Mediators in order for the community to more rapidly take up change. The Disruptors, by themselves, will generally not be listened to.

So, while finding the people who innovate is important, finding those who can mediate these changes is also important.

In my experience, many communities have enough disruptive innovators and a large majority of doers. What they lack are enough early adopting mediators to permit rapid adoption of change.

Later, I’ll discuss how to identify these mediators by both top-down and bottom-up approaches. These are the key people in the process. I’ll also have some suggestions for overcoming the lack of Mediators in many organizations.

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