No. 12: July/August 1997
Knowledge Management - The Relabelling continues
Knowing about Y2K - The Millennium Beckons
The World Mind Seminar
Network Partners - Phrontis, Trend Monitor, ENTOVATION
Knowledge Management Events
Welcome to the summer issue of I3 UPDATE, a free briefing analysing developments in the networked knowledge economy. Because of the holiday period we have combined the July and August issues. The September issue will be published around the 20th. You can register to receive I3 UPDATE by email. Editions are archived on these pages (http://www.skyrme.com/updates/index.htm)
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David J. Skyrme
David J. Skyrme
There is no doubt that knowledge management is a fashionable and growing bandwagon. Many people are simply changing labels of their activities by substituting 'knowledge' in place of 'information' or other words. As we noted in I3 UPDATE No. 9, replacing 'information management' with 'knowledge management' is one of the most common substitutions. The problem with straight word substitution is whether those who do so actually understand the distinction. We couldn't help noticing the reprint of a leaflet about an information management course, with its new heading 'knowledge management', but whose content was exactly the same!
From Information to Knowledge
The distinction, of course, lies partly in the nature of the information or knowledge being managed. We distinguish between explicit knowledge that can be encapsulated as information and tacit knowledge. People also draw distinctions between other forms of knowledge, such as procedural knowledge and systemic knowledge. The term 'knowledge database' is growing in use. Although this is something of an oxymoron, there are several ways in which a computer database can have added some 'knowledge' characteristics:
- Adding contextual information to database entries - where was this information used? What factors need to be considered when using it?
- Giving details of originator- allowing users of the information to contact the contributors e.g. via email hypertext links.
- Offering an experts' database - pointers to people, information on the location of experts and expertise, rather than the expertise itself.
- Addition of multimedia material e.g. a visual demonstration of an entry, such as a team at work.
I use these examples in an article 'Knowledge Management: Oxymoron or Dynamic Duo?' to be published in September's 'Managing Information' (published by Aslib). I also suggest that information professionals can make an excellent contribution to knowledge management through their information organizing skills - helping professionals get a 'fast track' to knowledge. In particular they can act as the human interface to the database of information and network of experts. Those information managers who I have met that are playing their part in their organization's knowledge management activities, have one common characteristic - they are close to the heart of the business. They understand what critical information and knowledge makes the business tick, and they make sure it flows easily from those who have or generate it to those who use it.
Oxymoron or Dynamic Duo?
I suggest that 'knowledge management' is an oxymoron, since the challenge is to manage something that is intangible, in people's heads and is context related. On the other hand, knowledge is an important resource, while management is a professional discipline for making the most effective use of an organization's key resources. Therefore properly combined they could, and should, be a dynamic duo.
Anyone who has been in a stimulating environment of knowledgeable individuals knows that such groups can be tremendously innovative and meet the most demanding management challenges. The management skills, though, are very different to the traditional "direct, monitor, measure and control" variety. They are more to do with setting a vision, challenging and enthusing people, creating stimulating environments and giving theoccasionall 'tweak' and 'nudge' to keep things moving forward (note that I wasn't specific about where - the mostinnovativee companies can also beopportunisticc - did you know that the makers of Mars bars in the UK developed a line in electronic marine navigation aids?).
And yes, knowledge managers will need some new tools in their tool-kit, most of which come from research or learning environments, not those of traditional factories or, in today's office settings, those that are used to manage core business processes. Therefore, as long as the appropriate management skills are applied, knowledge management should not be an oxymoron but a dynamic duo.
Advantages of Relabelling
I'm not decrying relabelling. Like any bandwagon, if there is a momentum under way, it makes sense to 'go with the flow'. When business process reengineering (BPR) was in its ascendancy, many change programmes and project were relabelled as BPR. It helped them get attention - and resources. The only problem was that many carried on in the same old way. If through relabelling your pet project as a knowledge management project, you get greater visibility - that's fine by me. The real pay-off comes, though, when you make new connections and develop new ideas through communicating 'knowledge', you develop a shared language, and there becomes synergy through different change programmes working in harmony. When clients ask me "where do I get started with knowledge management?", my answer is simple. Find an existing initiative that you can link to, and make sure you understand how adding the knowledge dimension to it will bring business benefits.
As an example, with our partners at Phrontis Limited, we have just helped one client make the connections between knowledge management and simulation more explicit. Doing such linking exercises helps give a new perspective on critical business problems and gets people with different experiences and skills to share their knowledge. That, after all, is one of the main planks of knowledge management.
David J. Skyrme.
David Skyrme and Jan Wyllie
Every week, there is more coverage of the so-called Year 2000 problem, where computers will not be able to cope with the change of date from 31st December 1999 to 1st January 2000. Trend Monitor International's information refinery files are bulging at the seams. From a small trickle of articles two years ago, every week almost every publication tracked adds yet more stories of the problem (and finally some solutions) unfolding.
The Y2K story is evolving beyond being primarily a technical issue for IT specialists to becoming first a management, then a political and public issue. It is as essential for the IT managers working on Year 2000 related software projects to know the wider implications of the work they are doing, as it is for managers, policy makers and the public to understand the problem, the reasons why it cannot be "fixed" in time and, as much as possible, how to protect themselves and even benefit from its effects.
No longer is it a silly oversight or a problem to shrug at. Estimates of the cost to correct it have trebled within the last year. A company may spend 500-500 million to overcome the problem, with lawyers getting a sizeable chunk. And the problem doesn't suddenly occur at midnight on 1st January 2000. Already financial transactions are being rejected and catastrophic machine failures have been reported. We even heard the other day of someone doing a 'quick check' on their production line during routine maintenance, from which it took them a day or so just to get back to smooth 1997 operations. From an experience closer to home: unless you have a disaster recovery plan in place, don't even try testing your own PC by setting its clock to 2000. You will be surprised (unpleasantly) at the effects.
You can read all about developments in Year 2000 scenarios (we have four distinct scenarios - of which the disaster one is marginally more likely than the plain sailing one!) in our new Y2K Awareness Briefing (see publications below).
The interesting question to us is that of how this knowledge has diffused or, dare we say, 'exploded'. Surely many people knew about the problem when building computers, installing embedded controllers, and writing software? Yet why was this knowledge not widely spread? What did it take for this knowledge to surface? Was it nothing to do with the knowledge within the computer fraternity but simply the general media coverage of Year 2000 celebrations - then someone though of fireworks and remembered the damp squib that would sour the celebrations?
We've got our own theories but we'd love to hear your thoughts and answers. (email them to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org)
One answer might be that in today's society we build so many 'temporary' edifices that actually achieve a degree of permanence. A good recent example are some temporary wooden bungalows imported from Minnesota to the UK during the war. Now 30 years and more beyond their 20 year lifespan, they have been 'listed' as buildings of national historic importance!
With the belated response of many organizations to addressing the millennium problem, there are sure to be some 'temporary' or 'quick fixes'. One wonders how long they will survive (surely not to 9,999?). More important, who is managing the knowledge of the fix?
David Skyrme - Email:email@example.com
Jan Wyllie - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
See A Reader Replies
Calgary, June 14, 1997.
Passing on the Torch of Knowledge or Should We Simply Light Candles?
Professor Abe Goodman is now a very old man. He is not well. He says his
thinking has been impaired by a stroke, although apart from a slight
slowness in his speech you wouldn't know it.
I came to know him, through Alan Mayne, who edited and wrote the Critical
Introduction to World Brain: H G Wells on the Future of World Education.
This book is the first collection of Wells 1930s thinking on what he
called a "world knowledge apparatus" designed to avert the economic,
social and environmental catastrophe that Wells then foresaw (and now on
the brink of which we seem to be living). In his Critical Introduction,
Alan Mayne recommends my discipline of content analysis as a tool for
constructing a human process necessary for the realisation of Wells’
Abe (as he likes to be called) first found out about Well’s World
Encyclopedia ideas in the 1930s and made it his life’s work to further the
cause by building an interdisciplinary core group of people prepared to
devote their time and knowledge to developing and implementing a practical
global thinking process which would create and disseminate the knowledge
needed to solve the world’s problems.
I first met Abe two years ago at a lunch he organised in a hotel near
Heathrow Airport. It took a lot of effort for him to speak since he was
recovering from a recent heart attack. Although the World Mind vision
still animated him, he spoke of his fear that its enormous potential in a
digital networked world would be lost after he and the other elders of the
original world mind group, such as Parker Rossman, joined Manfred Kochen,
founder of the now defunct WISDOM (Worldwide Intelligence Service for the
for the Development of Omniscience in Mankind), in the hereafter. I told
him about the project that I initiated with Simon Eaton to content analyse
and graphically thought-map the contents of H G Wells World Brain and
compare it to three contemporary sources. He liked the idea and invited me to a seminar he was planning at his base in the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
So, that is how nearly a year later I found myself sitting around a dinner
table in a state of fearsome jet lag with Abe and 12 others whom he had
chosen to attend a workshop called Education Technology and Fashioning of
the Emerging World Brain / World Mind. Parker Rossman, himself, was
sitting across from me looking and sounding anything but old and frail.
In the intensive "learn-in" which followed, a division opened up between
those who thought that some form of "world intelligence" would evolve
naturally according to the emerging laws of complexity theory, and those
who argued that its formation must be a purpose driven mission backed by
very significant resources. The former tendency also felt that attempts by
people to bring about the world mind as a crusade would end up either in
Babel-like failure or some form of intellectual fascism. Those, including
Abe, who argued that the fashioning of the World Mind was a cause
requiring dedicated action, tended to believe that by the time some kind
of higher global intelligence might emerge naturally, humanity and the
planet would be too devastated by the effects of global industrial society
I submitted that both seemingly conflicting viewpoints might be harmonised
if a global intelligence system were to be fashioned through the operation
of a knowledge market which operated using a special currency created by
knowledge traders. By organising transactions in terms of brokered
knowledge wants and knowledge offers, according to the established
principles of local exchange trading systems (LETS), the knowledge and
information would be created and disseminated optimally by harnessing
people’s natural purpose driven ability to trade intelligently in a
totally free market in which the price of entry is not measured in dollars
If everybody can light a candle, then the need to pass the torch will end.
H G Wells, through Abe Goodman and the first generation of ‘World
Minders’, will have set the world alight with the quest for knowledge.
 Global Learning: Constructing the World Mind - A description
In the late 1930s, H. G. Wells perceived the world to be on the edge of
social, political and environmental disaster. In response, Wells conceived
of what he called a "world knowledge apparatus" based on the creation of
an efficient learning network. This interactive book is designed to show
how, through using both the World Wide Web and traditional paper and
print, Wells' vision could be implemented as a practical communication
This document is organized by a framework of questions - those which were
used to interrogate the source books. In order to identify the common
threads of meaning in these books, we gathered and re-organized what the
authors were saying under five categories.
- Purposes (what the World Mind offers)
- Needs (what the World Mind requires)
- Components (how World Mind can be designed)
- Implementation (how the World Mind can be put into practice)
- Examples (where the World Mind has been put into practice, which, as you will see, is a set of which this document is a member).
The Diagrams at the beginning of each of the main sections are designed to
be read radiantly (or from the center out) and radially (or clockwise,
usually starting at about one o'clock). The diagrams and the text are
linked by the use of common 'icons' which illustrate an overview of Wells'
vision in each of the categories focused on in Alan Mayne's World Brain
compilation. This view can then be contrasted with those of a selection of
key 1990s authors. Using this common framework it is possible to read the
document as if H. G. Wells and the modern authors were conversing on the
subject. To do this, compare the text on facing NOW and THEN pages by
reading across these two sections. Alternatively, the reader can focus on
either period of time by reading the sections down the page in the
Of course, the document is not complete without your ideas on the topic
which is why it is only at the beginning of its active life. The plan is
to represent your views on the topics in the next edition … ad infinitum.
So welcome to the meta-conversation!
Limited edition of full colour copies with response form is available from
Post Virtual Publications, 3 Tower St., Portsmouth, Hants. UK.
44 (0)1705 864714; Fax: 44 (0)1705 828009
Email: email@example.com. £30 / 55
Jan Wyllie is Managing Director of Trend Monitor International Ltd
Update (Aug 1999) - The exact publications portfolio changes over time. Check publications index for current offerings.
As well as the report Creating the Knowledge-based Business, featured in I3 UPDATE No. 10 we have expanded our publications portfolio to include a series of briefings that give senior managers critical insights into key strategic issues. The various series are:
1. Trend Monitor Awareness Briefings - these include executive summaries, trend analyses, quarterly updates and an alerting service. The following briefings are available or planned:
- Countdown Y2K - The Millennium Reckoning
"a new higher perspective from which to think about this dramatic and potentially catastrophic emergency"
- ECash - Electronic Payment Mechanisms
"big opportunities will be created by micropayments, transactions that cost only fractions of a penny to execute"
- Internet Shopping - New Media, New Models
"there's not really much consumer resistance; just little supplier understanding
of how the medium actually works".
2. Internet Insights - Structured analyses and overviews of 36 main topic areas divided into these four categories:
A. Users and Applications e.g. shopping, public access, Intranets
B. Content and services e.g. directories, push channels, payment mechanisms
C. Servers, Software and Access e.g. commerce servers, browsers, Web-TV
D. Network Services - online (e.g. AOL, MSN), Internet Access Providers
A full topic list is available.
3. Business Briefings. Customised briefings for specific needs. Past topics have included teleworking, multimedia, learning organization, database and relationship marketing, online services.
4. Knowledge Updates. Coming this fall will be a regular series of analyses and updates with accompanying briefing notes, such as 'Do You need a CKO?', 'Knowledge Management: making sense of an oxymoron', 'Intranets: sharing organizational knowledge'.
Additional details of content, samples, pricing and order forms will be found in the new publications index at our Web site:
Update (Mar 2000). Check Publications, Analysis Services and K-Shop for details of current products.
Like every global virtual organization, David Skyrme Associates networks cooperatively with business partners to source, skills and knowledge to solve customer problems. Our key partners include:
ENTOVATION International (http://www.entovation.com). Debra Amidon, coauthor with David Skyrme of 'Creating the Knowledge-based Business' has been advising international agencies on the wider implications of the knowledge economy. She reports: "this topic is taking off internationally with the EU, The World Bank, the SEC, Latin America,
Israel, demonstrating real interest in the impact and implications". A recent addition to their Web site is a Norwegian version of "The Momentum of Knowledge Management"
Phrontis Limited (http://www.phrontis.com) works with its clients to clarify and resolve business issues using innovative approaches based on systems thinking. They report: "system thinking approaches are also a key contributor for capturing both explicit and tacit knowledge, a key requirement of Knowledge Management." Phrontis is also a distributor of the systems dynamics simulation software developed by Powersim AS of Norway.
Trend Monitor International (http://www.trendmonitor.com). Developers of the information refinery approach and developing with us the methods for creating and managing knowledge refineries. They systematically refine material from hundreds of sources from which are developed the Awareness Briefings (see publications above). A recent joint assignment was a market analysis of Internet Shopping.
Knowledge Management in Banking and Finance, 30th September 1997, London.
ICM. Tel: 0171 499 0900
Practical steps to managing knowledge, 18-19 September 1997, London
Managing and sustaining the knowledge-based organization, 18-19 September 1997.
IQPC. Tel: 0171 421 3500
Knowledge management in telecoms, 23-24 Oct, London.
First Conferences. 0171 404 7722
Intranets, Unicom, 7-8 October 1997, London.
Knowledge Management 97, 2-3 Dec, London.
Business Intelligence. Tel: 0181 879 3300
The September edition of ETD News will be published shortly as part of the ETHOS (European Telematics Observatory) Newsletter. Articles include:
- Telework in Europe: The bridge between social and societal needs and new technology opportunities. Report of seminar, Brussels 5th June 1997.
- Telework Charter update - 1,000 organizations expected to endorse charter
- Telecom Interactive 97 - The Telework Dimension (Geneva, Sept)
- Telework 97: best case studies etc Stockholm (22-24 Sept)
- News roundup - Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Finland
Look out for it online at http://www.eto.org.uk/etd/news/
Telework events and European Telework Week 97 at http://www.eto.org.uk
Coming Next Month
© Copyright, 1997. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
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I3 UPDATE is a publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited - providers of market studies, consultancy and strategic advice in knowledge
management, knowledge networking and collaborative technologies.