Knowl­edge Man­age­ment

Knowl­edge Man­age­ment and Real Con­ver­sa­tion

Insurance - - CONTENTS - Text David Gur­teen | Gur­teen Knowl­edge Com­mu­nity


was at a Knowl­edge Man­age­ment (KM) con­fer­ence re­cently where a woman in the au­di­ence ex­plained to one of the speak­ers that her or­gan­i­sa­tion had im­ple­mented an IT-based KM sys­tem that no one would use. She wanted to know how peo­ple might be made to use it.

Now in the old com­mand and con­trol days of busi­ness, man­agers could make work­ers do as they wished. Man­ual work and cler­i­cal work are vis­i­ble – we can mon­i­tor peo­ple's ac­tiv­ity rel­a­tively eas­ily. But knowl­edge work – "mind work" is far more dif­fi­cult.

When it comes to knowl­edge work­ers us­ing a KM sys­tem that only sup­ports them in their work – that they can choose to use or not use and still get re­sults – then no one can make them use a new sys­tem and/or make them change their be­hav­iour.

There are many things that you can do to en­sure that knowl­edge work­ers use a tech­nol­ogy-based KM sys­tem but by far, the sim­plest and most ob­vi­ous is to in­volve them in the project from the very be­gin­ning. Knowl­edge work­ers should par­tic­i­pate in the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of such sys­tems. They should have own­er­ship.

This was the an­swer given to the woman at the con­fer­ence but her re­ply was “Oh – but we did not have time for that – man­age­ment wanted the sys­tem yes­ter­day!” So what did man­age­ment get? “A sys­tem de­liv­ered on time that no one used.”


Much is talked about how to mo­ti­vate knowl­edge work­ers and worse still how to make them adopt knowl­edge­shar­ing be­hav­iours. But a true knowl­edge worker should need no ex­ter­nal force or mo­ti­va­tion. More of­ten than not, or­gan­i­sa­tional bar­ri­ers

and de­mo­ti­va­tors sim­ply need to be re­moved. True knowl­edge work­ers will take the ini­tia­tive and re­spon­si­bil­ity for what they know, don't know and need to know.

Man­agers can­not man­date knowl­edge-shar­ing be­hav­iours or the use of KM dis­ci­plines or tools. They cer­tainly can­not man­date the mind­sets re­quired by knowl­edge work­ers – the way they see and per­ceive the world.

In a knowl­edge-based or­gan­i­sa­tion, the role of a man­ager is quite dif­fer­ent to a more clas­si­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion. Man­agers are more coaches or men­tors than con­trollers. In many ways, man­agers and in­di­vid­ual work­ers are lit­tle dif­fer­ent in their need to un­der­stand KM and to lever­age knowl­edge. They fun­da­men­tally need the same skills and mind­set.

Per­son­ally, I tend not to greatly dis­tin­guish man­agers and work­ers and when talk­ing and writ­ing about KM, I adopt a ‘we’ ap­proach. That is I write sen­tences such as:

“How do we all learn to bet­ter col­lab­o­rate to­gether?” (i.e. man­agers, work­ers and con­sul­tants)

Rather than:

“How do we make them (knowl­edge work­ers) col­lab­o­rate?”

The for­mer as­sumes that as man­agers or con­sul­tants, we are ok and that every­one else is not ok. It is di­vi­sive and be­trays the ob­so­lete mind­set of com­mand and con­trol. In gen­eral, man­agers and con­sul­tants are not any bet­ter at shar­ing knowl­edge than knowl­edge work­ers – of­ten worse.


Let’s say we had all the in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge that we ever needed. And what’s more – it was per­fect. That it was stored in one large eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble data­base. Let’s also say that we had ex­perts with per­fect knowl­edge who were read­ily avail­able

and with whom we could eas­ily and read­ily talk.

Nir­vana! What­ever we wanted to know, we could ob­tain. It was there at our fin­ger­tips. But would it re­ally make that much dif­fer­ence?

Let me give you a quote from Michael Schrage:

“I think ‘knowl­edge man­age­ment’ is a b******t is­sue. Let me tell you why. I can give you per­fect in­for­ma­tion, I can give you per­fect knowl­edge and it won't change your be­hav­iour one iota. Peo­ple choose not to change their be­hav­iour be­cause the cul­ture and the im­per­a­tives of the or­gan­i­sa­tion make it too dif­fi­cult to act upon the knowl­edge. Knowl­edge is not the power. Power is power. The abil­ity to act on knowl­edge is power. Most peo­ple in most or­gan­i­sa­tions do not have the abil­ity to act on the knowl­edge they pos­sess. End of story.”

Or a more cut­ting com­ment still from a busi­ness con­sul­tant I in­vited to a re­cent KM con­fer­ence:

“David – this KM busi­ness is re­ally just a load of bol­locks. It does not ad­dress the qual­ity of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing! What is the point of hav­ing all this KM stuff in place if peo­ple still make lousy de­ci­sions? If they don’t use it or if they do the wrong thing - even ex­cep­tion­ally well – they would do bet­ter to do the right thing very badly and not bother with KM at all!”

In short, even if we made per­fect knowl­edge avail­able, there is no guar­an­tee that we will un­der­stand the world any bet­ter or make wiser de­ci­sions or put it to pro­duc­tive use. We ‘tune out’ what we don't wish to hear. We ig­nore in­for­ma­tion that does not seem rel­e­vant or does not fit our pre­con­ceived ideas. We as­sume we have the an­swers and look no fur­ther. At times, we are ar­ro­gant and ig­no­rant and bliss­fully not aware of it.

True knowl­edge work­ers will take the ini­tia­tive and re­spon­si­bil­ity for what they know, don't know and need to know.


To my mind, one way to help re­duce the above bar­ri­ers is to start to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion – real con­ver­sa­tion – to learn it, prac­tise it and en­cour­age it. We must start to se­ri­ously con­sider the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem that we are not good at talk­ing with each other.

First, we do not lis­ten to each other.

Sec­ond, we do not say what we think. We do not tell the ‘truth’ – we do not ex­plain how and why we ‘per­ceive’ the world dif­fer­ently.

If we want to im­prove our knowl­edge and make it pro­duc­tive, there is only one thing that we need to learn to do. That is to im­prove our un­der­stand­ing – to be­come more aware. Much will fol­low from this.

There are two ways in which we can im­prove our un­der­stand­ing of our or­gan­i­sa­tional lives. We can learn from the pain as our il­lu­sions and false ideas clash with a con­tin­u­ally chang­ing re­al­ity. Or we can take an­other route – lis­ten and tell the truth.


Do we lis­ten, in or­der to con­firm what we al­ready think and in or­der to re­ply? Or do we lis­ten in or­der to dis­cover some­thing new? Do we en­ter into a con­ver­sa­tion with a will­ing­ness to learn rather than to force oth­ers to agree?

Are we will­ing to change? Are we open to the truth, no mat­ter what the con­se­quences, no mat­ter where it leads us?

Are we will­ing to ad­mit that we are wrong? Maybe we have al­ways been wrong. Maybe our views are just no longer ap­pro­pri­ate in a rapidly chang­ing world. But wrong nev­er­the­less.

Are we ready to lis­ten? Are we open? And by be­ing open, I do not mean gullible. Be­ing open does not mean swal­low­ing ev­ery­thing we hear

'hook, line and sinker'. Or be­ing talked over and walked upon – not stand­ing for our point of view. We still need to chal­lenge ev­ery­thing but from an at­ti­tude of open­ness, not stub­born­ness.


Are we pre­pared to tell the truth? Are we pre­pared to de­scribe the world as we re­ally see it? Are we pre­pared to ac­cept that in be­ing hon­est, we will scare peo­ple? Are we pre­pared to deal with peo­ple, who when we tell the truth, will per­ceive it as a per­sonal as­sault – an in­vi­ta­tion to bat­tle rather than the be­gin­ning of a real con­ver­sa­tion?

We re­sist speak­ing the truth, and we avoid hear­ing it, too. But by speak­ing the truth and be­ing pre­pared to lis­ten to the truth, we be­come more self­aware and bet­ter un­der­stand the need for change.


All the best tech­nol­ogy in the world; all the in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge that we might ever need at our fin­ger­tips; all the tools and tech­niques that we are ever taught to ma­nip­u­late peo­ple and get our own way will never com­pen­sate us for a lack of real un­der­stand­ing of what is go­ing on around us.

It will never com­pen­sate for our fail­ure to in­volve other peo­ple in our think­ing and our plans. It will never com­pen­sate us for our lack of un­der­stand­ing of what re­ally mo­ti­vates peo­ple. And it will never com­pen­sate us for mak­ing bad de­ci­sions be­cause we have failed to suf­fi­ciently talk to other peo­ple with rel­e­vant knowl­edge and in­sights.

Real con­ver­sa­tion can how­ever help ad­dress all of th­ese is­sues. It is through real con­ver­sa­tion that we learn to see and over­come our my­opia.

Even if we made per­fect knowl­edge avail­able, there is noguar­an­tee that we will un­der­stand the world any bet­ter or make wiser de­ci­sions or put it to pro­duc­tive use.

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