Blow Milk Out Your Nose Funny – KM Implementation!

Blow Milk Out Your Nose Funny KM Implementation

I seem to find some of my best “fodder” for posts either in email or phone discussions, and this post definitely falls into that category.

Got a phone call from someone who wanted to chat about life, the universe and everything…well, not really…but it just seemed that the conversation really rambled around a bit. It was someone calling to ask about membership in the KM society that I’m a volunteer in…and the phone rings in my office.

So I take the call, answer a few quick questions about membership and then we were moving into general chit-chat. Seems the individual on the other end of the phone was a Knowledge Manager working for a private sector firm and was fairly new to this whole KM schtuff. As the conversation turned toward what this KM’er was engaged in, what KM schtuff was ongoing in their organization, what directions they would take (always interesting to hear what folks are up to)….I heard it.

It. Big IT (no, not IT as in information technology)…but a BIG IT. The IT was what was said. Took my breath away for a moment, and had I been sipping my Diet Coke at the time would have probably had an incident (sort of like when something is “blow milk out your nose funny” which I can tell you from first hand experience…is not pleasant). The IT had to do with the direction that the KM’er was planning on taking the organization….and in one bold statement, there IT was. I’d asked, “So what do you see as the biggest challenge ahead of you and the organization as you implement KM?” Answer: “We’re working hard on capturing tacit knowledge.” And there IT was, “blow milk out your nose funny” — “capturing tacit knowledge.”

Okay, now just to set the stage for what I’m about to share in what I said next…let me toss out a quick ‘n dirty definition of Tacit Knowledge: “Knowledge which tends to be only available in someone’s mind and generally it is difficult or even impossible to share.” And yes…I know that we can go a bit further than that…but just for fun, let’s say that this is a good working definition for discussing the conversation that I was having.

Okay, following along? Great. At this point, I’d like to ask…being serious for a moment…that you put down your coffee. Or your Coke. Or your milk if that happens to be the beverage of choice. You see where this is headed, right? Okay. So put it down. Now please. Ready?

Right after I heard “capturing tacit knowledge” I said in a perfectly straight sounding voice….

“Well, capturing tacit knowledge….hmmm….that is one of the biggest challenges most organizations face. So which model do you think you will find most useful — Borg or Vulcan?”

Remember…I warned you.

The KM’er’s reply to me: “Ah, I’m not sure. Which do you recommend and why?”

My reply: “Well, I prefer Vulan as it is more of a low tech approach, less expensive and we don’t have to worry about the technology compatibility of the Borg implants.”

Long pause. During the call I mean, not here. I was waiting. Waiting for…for the KM’er to go, “Oh, funny. Ha Ha.” Or something like that. Nuh uh…didn’t happen. After the long pause came a follow-up question by the KM’er: “I’ve never used the Vulan model, how does it work?”

I really do hope that you’re not trying to snarf a sip of coffee now, and if you are — you were warned, and the mess on your keyboard is NOT my responsibility I’ll have you know!

So I replied:

“Well, you take the worker that has the tacit knowledge…and you sit them down in a chair. Preferably something comfortable. Then you pull another chair up r-e-a-l close…..” “And….you put your hand on their forehead and form the mind meld.”


Reply from the KM’er: “The mind meld?”

My reply: “Yeah, I don’t know the technical details of how it works, but I’ve watched Spock do it several times….”

Note: Just in case you’ve somehow missed the entire Star Trek TV series experience, 
from Wikipedia — “Vulcan Mind Meld. A procedure known as a mind-meld involves physical 
contact with a subject (though instances of mind-melds without contact have 
been seen), making it possible to share thoughts, experience, memories, and 
knowledge with another individual.”

So at this time the KM’er did finally catch on to the “funny” and had a good chuckle. And then asked me seriously, was I making funny of him suggesting a plan to “capture tacit knowledge.”

Here’s your sign. (Referring to comedian Bill Engvall, and his routine focused around “Here’s your sign.“)

So I took that to be an indication that he was willing to sit and listen for a bit…so we got into a discussion about just how silly it sounds for KM’ers to say (while tapping their foreheads knowingly) that, “Ya know, that there tacit knowledge stuff is up here in our heads and we needs ta git it ouwt.”

Here’s your sign.

I explained that in my opinion, that trying to simply classify knowledge as either tacit or explicit was…well, doing a real injustice to KM. I suggested that there were many other ways to classify knowledge — for example, we wandered through a classification system that includes “advantaged” or “base” or “trivial” knowledge (Pat Clark, 1998 and Mike Zack 1999). I tossed out Holsapple, Davenport, Needleman and several more.

The point being that as a KM’er I could…sit down and using various models and techniques to come to terms with, for example, which knowledge was to me either advantaged, base or trivial. But try as I might, I’d find it pretty tough to try to simply gather all that tacit knowledge, which by definition was “only available in someone’s mind and generally it is difficult or even impossible to share.” Personally, I like to take a cut at “what” or “which” knowledge from several different directions and see what bubbles to the top.

But again, the point being that you can do something given that kind of approach. And that something will end result in looking like an actual KM strategy. Opposed to “capture all the knowledge” in the organization which is not only NOT a strategy…but it makes it sound a bit like you believe in Vulcans or the Borg. And yet I regularly run into organizations that somehow believe that the goal of Knowledge Management is to capture all knowledge. Somehow. Someway.

So the next time you hear someone begin to talk about tacit knowledge, as they knowingly tap their forehead and explain that it needs to be “captured ’cause that’s where it is ya know, in our heads!”…I hope that you’ll remember this discussion. And I truly hope you don’t blow milk out of your nose.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
It’s well past time for KM’ers to move “on beyond Tacit vs. Explicit” knowledge and to utilize models, tools, techniques and methodologies to determine what knowledge provides competitive advantage to the organization.  Identify knowledge gaps, apply knowledge resources to close or mitigate those gaps.


Originally published at ITtoolbox on 10/9/2006


About Dr. Dan Kirsch