Category Archives: What I think

Reports of the death of KM are greatly exaggerated

There’s a dialogue going on, over on the AOK list which has become [my paraphrase] “Is knowledge management dead, dying or actually bursting chock-full of life?” No prizes for which side I’m on and, to be honest, most of the contributors are on too.

My take on this is that Knowledge Management is about as “dead” as Scientific Management was for a great deal of the last century – ie its time as a management fad was finished, but it continued to form the basis of the best thinking about how to run organisations for long after people saw themselves as practitioners of Scientific Management.

For me, the trouble is that we haven’t quite shaken that off – many of the ideas inherent in that approach have become so entrenched in the collective psyche that we still think that management is about control, efficiency and productivity (as in the ratio of outputs to inputs) and that the organisations are actually huge machines, not groups of people at all. There is another way – it’s a bit messy, it doesn’t necessarily conform to our ideas of what a management discipline is, but the ways of working that together we’ve come to call Knowledge Management are the only ways that organisations can continue to thrive as the emphasis of what we do has shifted from industry and manual labour to brain work.

That’s why I started talking here about Kmanagement (the K is silent). It really is just about management of knowledge-based organisations and I do believe that much of the pain we feel at work (anyone not feel pain? – hurrah for you!) is down to us knowing that the old methods don’t work, but not knowing what would.

I think the implications fall into three areas:

  • the changes for individuals in the way that they work and learn (Personal Knowledge Management)
  • the changes for those who lead organisations in the way that they carry out their role (Enterprise Knowledge Management)
  • and

  • the new social institutions that are needed to work alongside commercial organisations to supply their needs and look after those who work in them
  • But social institutions may be for another day’s discussion. Thank goodness there are so many excellent brains working on how to make this all work out for the best.

    Kmanagement isn’t control

    So just give up on the production line stuff.
    Ideas on a production line
    She will not do everything you want exactly as you want it. He won’t comply with your processes (ever). They will talk about it behind your back and come up with better ideas between them than you ever could yourself. And it’s OK.

    When we were making widgets, it was about control.

    “We at Widget Corp have carefully developed the optimum standardised process for widget production. There are 7 key steps in the production procedure. These must be followed by everyone. If you deviate in any way from any of the 7 steps in the widget production procedure there is a significant risk of physical harm to you and your colleagues and an unnacceptably high number of defective widgets. Widgets can only be made on our premises for health and saftey reasons. Our salespeople sell 1,000 widgets a week – we therefore need every employee to produce 5 perfectly formed widgets per day (during their 8 hour shifts between the hours of 6.00am and 10.00pm) in order to meet orders and create reserve stocks. If you cannot produce 5 perfect widgets per day, we can always find someone else who can. Because of the physical strength required in the production process, widgets are traditionally only created by men.”

    All perfectly (ahem) reasonable.

    Now go back and substitute “idea” for “widget” throughout that paragraph.

    That’s why Kmanagement isn’t about control.

    Oh no, it’s the return of the 2×2 matrix

    The boston square, 2×2 matrix has become a lazy way of representing the fact that anything you want to think about in your organisation has (at least) two dimensions. I don’t think they’re big and I don’t think they’re clever but in all the talk about Personal Knowledge Management I keep coming back to this picture – because it helps me think it through rather than telling me anything startling and it reminds me that it’s “both…and” not “either…or”.
    Kmatrix - the 'k' is still silent
    When prompted for a file name, I obviously went for kmatrix (the ‘k’ is still silent). More as this filters through my consciousness.

    Ok some explanations. First, what is this supposed to say? Well it’s a map of the space really and what I hope to convey is that (k)managing a modern organisation involves working in all areas of this space – ie that it’s important to think about both personal and organisational activities and to think about these both as regards dealing with information and dealing with knowledge.

    The x-axis is labelled information-ey to knowledge-ey for two reasons: one, I think it’s important not to be too precise about these things, this is not an exact, scientific model – that’s my way of getting out of endless discussions on the definition of knowledge; two, I think these are two separate but intimately interrelated things rather than a spectrum – perhaps it should be a different sort of line, I don’t know.

    By Organisational on the y-axis, I mean organisational activities, things that the organisation can do, facilitate, encourage to happen etc; while the Personal is, well, um, personal stuff that people can do for themselves whether anyone else in the organisation gives a monkey’s about it.

    By introspective blogging, I mean the activity of developing ideas by expressing them in your blog, regardless of whether they end up being read, understood, or taken up by anyone else. I’m not sure if any of the other things need explanation. Intrabliki is the term we used on Blogwalk 4 to talk about a blog/wiki tool used within the firewall. I realise that I have misspelled

    [update – seems McGee is musing in a similar way]

    PS – When I worked for the Audit Commission, my best ice-breaking joke when doing presentations was to apologise for the 2×2 matrix slides, but that I was contractually obliged to insert an average of 3.724 such slides per presentation in the year up to 31st March. Well, the people who get to listen to presentations from guys from the Audit Commission thought it was pretty funny.


    It has come to the august attention of the Perfect Path Management Board that a couple of myths are circulating around the Perfect Path readership and clientele, relating to the availability of our lead consultant (L Davis, Esq.)
    and the fees charged for our services.

    Do not be fooled

    The maintenance of the Perfect Path blog is a trivial exercise requiring minuscule amounts of Mr Davis’s attention and working time [you’d know this if you had a blog yourself – get one, it’s cool, it’s easy, and it’s fun – if you don’t believe me ask my mate Alison].

    The man is available NOW – you could have his world-famous creative juices working for your organisation tomorrow (does not apply if reading this on Friday or Saturday). And forget any ideas about having to employ him for a whole day. If you can get his attention with a shiny cool project or problem – you can have him running around like a maniac for as little as £50 per hour.
    Yes that’s
    One Hour
    (rate is dependent on coolness of project as measured by the Perfect Path coolometer. Rates can go up as well as even further up)

    Call him now to see if your project is cool enough to qualify for our special entry-level rates.

    Kmanagement (the ‘K’ is silent)

    It came to me on the tube this morning. We were between Pimlico and Victoria and it made me giggle and snort (to the annoyance of my fellow passengers) which is when I know that it’s good enough to blog.

    I’ve been rattling on recently (less so here, more to anyone who will listen to my voice) about the trouble with talking about Knowledge Management – yes it’s true that “so what is knowledge management” is a useful opener to another conversation, say “how can I help you out with your current problems and as the merest by-product you give me a large amount of cash” but it also can end up as an argument about all sorts of other things (explicit & tacit, what’s a knowledge worker, personal or corporate etc. etc.) that take us… forward… very… slowly…

    So, Ladies, Gentlemen and those who aren’t sure… I give you Kmanagement (the ‘K’ is silent) I pronounce it ‘ manidjmunt’ but I grew up in Birmingham, so I can’t be trusted – those in the know may like to add a little glottal stop where the ‘K’ is, a little beat to distinguish Kmanagement from Management.

    Because IMHO that’s all it is – it’s ()management for today as opposed to management for yesterday. The thing I want to be talking about is not so much “how do you manage tacit knowledge?” or the such like, but rather how do I manage this organisation, or hey, just my team, given that everything I learned on business courses told me to manage this way and every instinct I have tells me that I need to do something different – because I’m not managing manual workers and production lines, I’m managing clever, talented, wild-thinking people who are currently creating the next great version of what this organisation really is.

    This is how it’s going to be here for a while – thinking about what Kmanagement is and what it isn’t.

    For starters:

    • Kmanagement isn’t control
    • Kmanagement isn’t either/or
    • Kmanagement is about people not machines (and people, even groups of people aren’t machines nor do they behave remotely like machines)
    • Kmanagement is about being creative and innovative
    • Kmanagement is about nurturing creativity in your group
    • Kmanagement isn’t about mine is bigger than yours – it’s about if I put yours together with mine, we get something even better
    • Kmanagement is about what works, today, for you

    Perfect Path Creed Redux

    Thinking about elevator pitches this morning – of which more later.

    OK – I sell knowledge management consulting. That means I do workshops, awaydays, mentoring, interim management, public speaking and some poor clients occasionally commission me to write them a report.

    But what differentiates me from other KM consultants who do those things? Well I am a bit different, personally – I don’t know how to describe it but you get a flavour of that from reading what I write here. And I think a bit differently (I swing wildly along the techno-fetishist fluffy bunny spectrum).

    I also mainly help public sector clients – and the things they need are sometimes very different from commercial folk (though often frighteningly similar).

    The creed is getting refined and this is how I wrote it today as the elevator doors squeak to a close behind me:

    I believe that much of the pain we feel as managers in modern organisations comes from trying to apply management thinking and methods that are 100 years out of date and which were developed to solve a very different set of problems.

    My understanding is that nobody has worked out a one-size-fits-all set of techniques for managing people in knowledge-based organisations and that it’s possible (probable?) that no such o-s-f-a set exists.

    What I do is help people work out what are the right techniques for them and their colleagues to use today and to see how they can really use them for organisational benefit – however they may perceive that.

    My experience has been that this usually requires them to find ways of being comfortable with their own creativity, and to nurture the creativity of others around them, while at the same time coming to feel at home with technology that is evolving very very quickly.



    100 posts I’m sure I’ve written, but can’t for the life of me find anywhere

    1.On gratitude for Kettle Chips
    2.On gratitude for escalators
    3.On being an attractive man in middle age
    4.On having man breasts
    5.On Coffee Republic vs Starbucks
    6.On having days when I’m particularly sensitive to smell
    7.On fear of being bitten by a dog
    8.On the morning after the death of John Lennon
    9.On using my mobile as a net bridge using GPRS
    10.On the very first time I saw the WWW
    11.On the very first time I drank Coca-cola
    12.On the way I walk
    13.On the way to the forum
    14.On the importance of daily showers
    15.On people who let their dog pee in the street
    16.On skimmed milk and it’s part in my downfall
    17.On just being fine
    18.On the Central Line and the joy of Leyton Station
    19.On using open source software wherever possible
    20.On the Ukulele Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain vs The Hula Bluebirds (no contest)
    21.On the joy of Pulp Fiction
    22.On my physical reaction to Reservoir Dogs
    23.On the Prince Charles cinema’s forward rake
    24.On Kettners All-Day-Breakfast
    25.On the power of the present moment
    26.On digging holes in the sand
    27.On sandcastles and moats
    28.On the beach – the video
    29.On the people I knew before they were famous
    30.On my frustration with my children’s attitude to my stories about the people I knew before they were famous
    31.On picking your nose in public
    32.On the desirability of a town house in Chelsea
    33.On the beauty of Chelsea Town Hall
    34.On Local Government Reorganisation in London in 1965
    35.On Ken Livingstone and London Buses
    36.On how teenagers in 50 years time will think how cool it must have been to be living in the first few years of the 21st Century
    37.On railway simulation using object oriented programming
    38.On how weakness is strength
    39.On the other side of the tracks
    40.On sweeping my side of the street
    41.On Sidney Bechet & Muggsy Spanier playing Sweet Lorraine
    42.On the sameness of Wringin’ and Twistin’ and It’s the Last Time
    43.On Lionel Hampton’s version of Panama Rag
    44.On Ghost Town and my first half of bitter
    45.On Banks’s Mild and it’s part in my downfall
    46.On doing a runner from Pizza Hut and why it’s not a good idea kids
    47.On the importance of keeping the floor dry in the bathroom
    48.On the importance of placing raw meat on a shelf below cooked meat in the fridge
    49.On being an ENFP
    50.On not being an ISTJ
    51.On walking in the country on my own
    52.On walking on the beach on my own
    53.On talking to myself
    54.On the joy of blue and green
    55.On not being who I truly am
    56.On the difficulty of writing lists
    57.On the ease of expressing thoughts in pictures and the difficulty of understanding other people’s pictures without intervention
    58.On the British Museum vs the Science Museum
    59.On the National Portrait Gallery
    60.On owning my first mobile phone
    61.On dinner and dancing at the Ritz
    62.On the power of prayer before talking to call centres
    63.On people jumping off bridges for fun
    64.On Portmeirion and other highly places on the edge of the civilised world
    65.On eating bacon, rice and peas
    66.On forgetting what it was I was looking for in the shed
    67.On the zen of weeding
    68.On For Sale signs outside houses
    69.On the rise and fall of the fax machine
    70.On the renaissance of the coffee shop
    71.On the back of a postcard
    72.On walking from Pershore to Naunton Beauchamp
    73.On rainbow pencils and rubber stamps
    74.On the simultaneous ease and trickiness of playing the ukulele banjo
    75.On drawing in public
    76.On talking in public
    77.On being PLACID
    78.On school strikes and unemployment benefit
    79.On leaving behind holes in my shoes
    80.On starting again afresh
    81.On being sunburned from sitting in rockpools
    82.On the pain of being hit with a cricket bat – and why I’m really sorry Jason
    83.On the secret sauce
    84.On corruption and disease
    85.On the futility of running the business by the numbers
    86.On Steve Ross at Pizza on the Park
    87.On living and talking dangerously
    88.On not taking myself or others too seriously
    89.On the belief in the healing power of software tools
    90.On listening to people I can’t stand and thanking them for what they’re telling me
    91.On estate agents and the impending end of the world
    92.On falling over my own feet in the carpark of Toys R Us
    93.On the Bolton report
    94.On paper aeroplanes and major security alerts
    95.On going tits up
    96.On The Beat after a CND march in Rugby c1981
    97.On the taste of honey
    98.On marmite on toast and a cup of tea
    99.On walking through treacle
    100.On the comfort that comes from completing a list, quickly followed by the realisation that there are 100 more to write.

    Distraction in the office

    I’m increasingly distracted today by a conversation that’s been going on a few cubicles away (I use a serviced office with lots of hotdesks) about e-mail marketing.

    They’ve been going on and on about the ways you can get round spam-filters and make sure you get through to people; fooling people into opting-in to stuff just to get the message through; getting whitelisted IP addresses. The most important thing seems to be getting their message (I think they’re promo-ing a gambling site) into someone’s inbox. Forget the fact that even if it gets through the filter, everyone’s got a delete button. Forget that by doing this and chasing people, you turn people even further off from using your service and maybe online services in general.

    I just keep thinking “Why, why, why are you putting so much effort into contacting people who don’t want to hear from you.”

    And better to think it and blog it than to go round there and poke my nose in directly

    Getting under the COLLAR

    COLLAR – is an idea right now that I want to turn into a real place – not simply a conceptual space or an online/virtual space, although it can’t escape being those too. But a real space that people can physically come together in to talk and learn and teach each other about the current state of organisational life and how best to survive it. It reflects my passionate belief that we need new institutions to help us survive and thrive in the knowledge economy.

    COLLAR stands for the “Centre for Organisational Life, Learning and Associated Research” – the name was provided by MUSICA (Made-Up Silly Institute for Contrived Acronyms) whose previous work was the PICKLE (Public Inspection Centre for Knowledge Learning and Enlightenment). Mmmm….I do like that “Enlightenment” bit, so in homage to PICKLE an alternative name for COLLAR would be LICKLE – the London International Centre for Knowledge Learning and Enlightenment.

    “Enough of the stupid name game – geddon with it – Ed”

    What’s it for?
    The Centre’s primary purpose is to provide a physical space for people to come together to discuss the nature of organisational life in the early 21st Century and to share their experience of ways of dealing with it and managing it. I think it’s important to have an urban location rather than a rural one to make it easy for people to drop in while they’re in town.

    The kinds of products that could initially be available to people visiting the centre would be of two types:

    Classes and Workshops in tools and techniques

    • Cultivating your creativity
    • Using creativity for better business
    • Developing your 60-second personal pitch
    • Making Personal Knowledge Management work for you

    Interesting Conversations

    • Knowledge Cafes (any subject you want to introduce)
    • Talking Walks around interesting areas of London
    • The Talking Shop (ongoing conversations, primarily developing products and ideas)
    • Research Colloquia (gulp this is getting frighteningly academic, let’s stop now)

    Haven’t we already got one of those?
    If so, then great, point me there and I’ll go and sit on their doorstep until they find a use for me, but I’m not sure. What I have in mind is not as academic as the Business Schools or Management Training Centres. Nor is it as wildly, ecstatically cutting-edge as the Cynefin Centre. It’s the sort of place I’d love to hang out in and do the sort of stuff, for example that we did on BlogWalk IV recently.

    Why not?
    I can make up a hundred reasons why other people might think this is a bad idea, but I’d rather hear them from other people than to entertain them myself. I think it can work, it’s needed and I’m prepared to put time, effort and money into making it happen. The worst that I can hear is that someone’s already doing exactly this – and as I’ve said, that doesn’t bother me.

    What’s needed next?

    • Money
    • Someone other than me to think about it
    • People with time etc. to start making it happen
    • Constructive ideas on making it happen
    • Premises
    • Suggestions of people who might be fired up by this idea (preferably ones who are already sympathetic, but also have some spare cash or cheap, but beautiful premises to offer and don’t want to have complete control over everything – shouldn’t be too hard to find ;-))

    Comment here or e-mail me to lend a hand, keep the conversation going or point out any enormous blind spot that you think I have.

    Communications Competences (shudder)

    The Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government has produced some research on it’s I&DeA knowledge site (Grrrr…annoying need to register to get at the goodies) about Communications functions in local councils.

    I skimmed one on core competencies and one on who should run the website before getting a bit antsy – neither of them even mention blogs (not even “there are some dangerous individuals out there who suggest that we should all be talking to the public more often and they’ve got this tool of the devil called a blog. If someone tries to sell you one, call 999 and walk away from them, backwards while maintaining eye-contact”) and the one on the place of the website only really gets as far as saying, it’s not a technical task, it’s a business one….so give it to communications.

    However in a great bit of joined up-ness, elsewhere on Knowledge there are some suggestions that blogging might be good for councillors at least.

    I take this as a reminder that I’m storming up the hill and not looking back often enough to realise that everyone else is still having fun just struggling to get their shoes on.