Knowledge Management is Easy…If….

KM is Easy...If....

Today’s post was inspired by Jack Vinson who in his blog over the weekend passed along an observation made by another KM’er:

“A KM leader admits that the hardest part of knowledge management is making the change happen amongst people. But, since that is so difficult, they didn’t do that. Instead, they spent millions on a fancy IT system.”

Anyone that has been reading my own posts over the months would certainly see that same viewpoint echoed dozens of times.

Jack’s post is called “Stop looking under the streetlamp for the keys” and that title relates to an old story about a man looking for his keys under the streetlamp even though he knew that he hadn’t lost them there, but was doing so because the light was better there. And Jack suggests that KM’ers, “Stop looking in the convenient places, and do the hard work.”


I think that the “taking the easy way out” would explain why it seems that once in awhile I run into folks who tell me how easy it is for them to implement “KM” in their organization. Which would certainly be of interest to me…thinking that perhaps they’ve found the magical process which makes it easy — almost as if they found that “Easy” button always shown in those TV commercials. Else if not that magic process….then perhaps they’ve had the great fortune of having assembled the perfect workforce…one that embraces change, understands the benefit of sharing knowledge instead of looking for their own personal edge by hoarding. But sigh…as I poke a bit further it seems that those who find it easy are more often than not….instead talking then about how easy it was to implement some bit of IT that they then called Knowledge Management.

And to paraphrase a Karl-Erik Sveiby quote — if IT is your KM strategy then at the end of the day you don’t have any.

I do think that this hits the nail on the head…but I also think that this is perhaps a case of there being two hammers (or two nails?) in that the above “approach” to KM implementation (add IT, sprinkle liberally with tech support, bake for one Pentium chip cycle) couldn’t exist without the avid support from management. Yes, in addition to this being a problem of folks avoiding doing the “hard work” this is also a case of managers desperately searching for the next thing that will be the thing that will end the bad things that have become the thing….well, what I mean is that they want an instant fix for everything but the problem is that they fail to recognize that the instant fix is only needed to fix the result of their last implemented instant fix.

The plain truth is that those same managers who didn’t have time to do the hard work the last time and instead implemented the quick fix (that got them into the mess they’re now in), are those same managers who now say that they don’t have time to do the hard work. And so it goes, cycle repeating.

The actual problem, the one that needs to be resolved, is that too many managers have never done the “hard work” and yet they somehow ended up where they are. Ill-equiped to manage much less lead they use the power given to them by their positions rather than try to use expertise, influence and knowledge to lead. With little or no understanding of the concepts of organizational change or how to lead they drive initiatives by mandate rather than by example or by using influence and consensus to foster ownership. They chase lagging financial metrics while at the same time moaning everytime a swift and nimble competitor outpaces them with an innovative product or service.

For them the “Easy” button exists…for me, I look at that button and instead see it as an “avoidance” button.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Implementing Knowledge Management is all about organizational change, about the people who have and use the knowledge. And yes, it involves work. Changing an organizational culture is a bit like making instant gelatin — it doesn’t happen right away and you can’t simply will the “gelling” process to happen faster just because you now need a quick fix to cover the results of the last quick fix. The more you “muck” with the gelatin out of impatience (or ignorance), the worse the results.


Originally published at ITtoolbox on 10/9/2006

About Dr. Dan Kirsch