Tire Slashing 101 – Defining Knowledge Management

Tire Slashing 101: Knowing who didn't do it helps.

You can learn a lot about the need for an effective vision to support your KM implementation by learning a bit about “tire slashing.” And here’s what you need to understand about both.

It seems that from time to time there is a lot of chatter in one discussion group or another about what “Knowledge Management” is or is not. And it always amazes me just how many folks will decide to weigh in with their own favorite personal interpretation of what Knowledge Management is or is not and spend hours and hours and hours doing just that. And talking about just that makes for interesting discussion in my own workshops — where I provide quite a few possible definitions, understandings, approaches and then I suggest that none of those are necessarily right…and none are necessarily wrong. And that it probably doesn’t even matter and spending a lot of time trying to “figure it all out” is probably a waste of time.

Truth be told, I think that there can’t be a standard definition of Knowledge Management, nor even a “best” one. And if you were to get together a roomful of so-called Knowledge Management experts you’d surely end up with a roomful of differences and similarities on what Knowledge Management is or is not.

In fact, personally, I believe that trying to come up with the “perfect” definition of Knowledge Management is…well, just plain silly. Probably even worse than silly, as it is actually counter-productive to what needs to be done during a successful Knowledge Management implementation.

Why? Well, let’s say that you are the Knowledge Manager or the Chief Knowledge Officer, or any other similarly titled position. As a senior “KM’er” in the organization it is your responsibility to lead Knowledge Management efforts, and all that being a leader involves. Frankly, it’s not your “job” to create the perfect definition of Knowledge Management.

If you are a Knowledge Management leader, then I firmly believe that it is your job to focus upon helping to build some form of consensus within the organization of what Knowledge Management is, what it means, and how it bring/provide value to the organization. That’s necessary to avoid the “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” problem. And building consensus about that has little to do with an exacting definition of Knowledge Management, nor even about identifying a best definition. Instead it should be a lot about developing a shared vision of where you need to go and why you need to get there. And I think that this hits square on the head of the nail what one of the more common problems is related to implementation of Knowledge Management — or for anything else. I’m referring to the failure to develop a consensus about what needs to be done and why.

I’m not shy about discussion Knowledge Management strategy or metrics, but it is important to understand that planning for a Knowledge Management implementation is more than that because I believe that implementing Knowledge Management is about making a cultural change within the organization. After all, if you aren’t already readily sharing knowledge across the organization, then you’ll need to change the culture to get there. And as important as it is to identify and define those performance gaps within the organization, and to consider how Knowledge Management can in fact be used to close those….it is more important to take one important first step: Develop a Shared Vision of What Knowledge Management Is/Will be in Your Organization. I’m talking about coming to terms with why you want to implement KM and understanding what gains will the organization see in getting to that successful implementation.

Unfortunately, developing a shared vision is something that most KM’ers could use a little help with. There is the obvious problem — obvious at least to those working inside the organization — and that is that most organizations do a lousy job of strategic planning, and if they aren’t on the ball with that, they’re also going to be less than effective at developing shared vision. Let’s face it — in many organizations shared vision is what the workers “get” after their manager tells them what that vision shared vision will be.

Enter the concept of “Tire Slashing 101.” That’s a belief that I have that works like so: Suppose there is a car parked out front in your parking lot right now. And that car has four slashed tires. The one thing that I can probably say with some degree of certainty is that the one person in your building that did NOT slash those tires is the owner of that car. Why? Because you’d have to be pretty twisted to do that. There are easier ways “out” of whatever was motivating you to slash the tires — for example, don’t want to make the trip across town? Well then, you might develop a sudden need for an oil change, or let a little air out of your tires. The auto club can help with a single tire. But if you have four flat tires the first question they will ask is where you’d like to have your car towed to…because they’re not bringing four spares. The point being that when you have a vested interest in the car (perhaps along with some consequences) you’re much more likely to care about its condition.

Now, how does this apply to KM and shared vision? You can apply the principles of Tire Slashing 101 in this manner: If you want to decrease the internal resistance to an organizational change, you simply increase participation in planning of that change. The more that you allow for someone to develop that feeling of ownership in the process, the greater the likelihood that they will want to protect that process…to improve that process. In the world of organizational change we know that lowering internal resistance is key to moving forward. So, make the knowledge workers “part owner” in the knowledge processes and they will be more willing to actively contribute to the success of those processes.

Now…back to our discussion of KM definitions…and the quest that some KM’ers have for finding that perfect definition. Time would be better well spent working on how to build consensus within the organization on what the knowledge workers and managers alike believe Knowledge Management to be (or not to be). In fact, think of the time spent in reaching consensus on anything important and those same typical gains that you get once you finally arrive at the consensus, and then apply that to Knowledge Management. I’m confident that the “road to reaching consensus” will be well worth the time.

If your organization is behind the power curve in innovations and creativity, and you’d considered applying Knowledge Management to that as a way to improve/increase both (good for you!), then consider the importance of first developing that shared vision for where KM will take the organization. Once you’ve reached that consensus, it will then be a lot easier as an organization to see where and how Knowledge Management can best be applied, and you’ll have a better understanding of the desired results.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
It’s not the job of you as the Knowledge Management leader to craft the “perfect” definition of Knowledge Management. It is your job to help the organization come to a consensus on what it is, what it is not, and how it will bring or provide value to the organization.

Based on a post of mine originally published at ITtoolbox on 10/3/2006.

About Dr. Dan Kirsch