I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International News
No. 20: June 1998
Beneath the Fad: The Future of Knowledge Management - David J. Skyrme
ENTOVATION International News
The Knowledge Profession Comes of Age
Y2K: The Gap Widens - Jan Wyllie
Trust and Risk - John Farago
Pigeons and Pigeon Holes: KM and Recruiting - Jim Almstrom
Welcome to this mid-summer* edition of I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International
News, a free briefing analysing developments and key issues in the
networked knowledge economy. One of the features of this economy is the
growth in leisure and other spiritual pursuits. This morning Druids
celebrated the coming of the summer solstice at dawn. Although the sun
wasn't shining for them, a few hours later most of England is basking in
glorious sunshine as we look forward to Wimbledon week to break the daily
routine of World Cup football. But for those whose pursuits are cerebral
stimulation we offer some thoughts on knowledge management and the impact
of human technology mastery as we approach the millennium.
I3 UPDATE is also available by email. See the administrative information page.
David J. Skyrme
* We do recognise that this is not true for our readers in the southern hemisphere, but at least your days can only now get longer.
David J. Skyrme
I am increasingly asked, especially by suppliers and consultants, about the
future of knowledge management. They ask: Is it just a passing fad? Is
there a window of opportunity we may miss? What is coming next? This time
last year, 47 per cent of managers in a study by Cranfield School of
Management expressed the view that it was indeed a fad. Now, a survey just
published put the figure at only 2 per cent. This indicates a realization
that knowledge is, as our ongoing analysis and publications have asserted,
that developing and exploiting organizational knowledge is fundamental.
Sharing knowledge e.g. of best practice, can improve productivity.
Embedding knowledge into products can enhance value. Connecting different
knowledge sources can create innovative products.
To gain some insights on the likely future of knowledge management, it is
instructive to look at how some earlier 'fads' have evolved. Few large
companies today do not practice Total Quality Management, at least in some
form. Quality has become embedded in all their products and processes -
although you still frequently find companies who are not practicing what
they preach. Similarly, most organizations have introduced some form of
Business Process Reengineering, even if not restructuring as radically as
Hammer and Champey defined it. The point is, that these concepts have
matured into a set of desired management practices, that in turn have
stimulated a thriving industry for experts, suppliers of tools and
techniques, training and other services. One question that remains,
however, is why many companies still deliver shoddy goods and services, or
why BPR has frequently failed to deliver the desired improvements. However,
just as you shouldn't blame the messenger, the success that many companies
have achieved indicates you should not blame the tools and techniques. All
depends on how well they are applied.
Knowledge Management Today
In just 2-3 years (if we put its modern incarnation as conferences in
1995/6) knowledge management has come a long way. It has:
- attracted significant strategic interest from many quarters, including top companies and government agencies
- spurred the release of several journals/magazines devoted exclusively to knowledge management
- become an initiative in between a third and half of Fortune 500 companies
- has delivered demonstrable benefits in a variety of situations
- created market opportunities for suppliers, especially for software products and management consultancy
- stimulated new ventures (cf www. knowledgeshop.com) devoted to exchange and sale of knowledge.
In short, it is becoming accepted, and as we noted in I3 UPDATE No. 11,
management interest in it as a potential 'Holy Grail' has encouraged much
relabelling, not just by suppliers, but by many initiatives within
companies that are dealing with knowledge (which is about all of them).
Beneath the fad, many companies and individuals are genuinely trying to
better understand the contribution of knowledge to business success. Of
course, once they get to grips with it, they find that some 90 per cent is
common sense and good management practice. Also, that not a lot is new - at
least if you know where to look. Guided by the perspective of a colleague,
Nick Willard, a founder figure in the IRM (Information Resources Management) movement, I suggest knowledge management is really about:
- managing information - explicit/recorded knowledge
- managing processes - embedded knowledge
- managing people - tacit knowledge
- managing innovation - knowledge conversion
- managing assets - intellectual capital
For each of these there are accepted disciplines. Its just that some of
them need tweaking to deal with the intangible nature of knowledge,
especially tacit knowledge. Also, what knowledge gives is a unifying
perspective over many different aspects of management. So, whereas the
nature of the fad is mostly relabelling, reframing and repositioning,
beneath the fad are substantive management activities.
Ten Shifts in Knowledge Management
Back to the question: What is the future of knowledge management? Here are
ten shifts that I think we will see. Do comment on them and share yours.
1. From a Dimension of Other Disciplines to a Discipline in its Own Right -
it will be a subject of degree courses and a profession distinct from
information management. Watch out for the first Faculty of Knowledge
2. From Strategic Initiatives to Routine Practice - The CKO of the future
(if they exist) will embrace some of the functions of today's HR managers
3. From Inward Focus on Knowledge Processes to External Focus on Knowledge
Businesses - companies will identify how their knowledge assets can be
recombined to create new knowledge-based businesses. For example, an
engineering/manufacturing company might create an engineering consultancy
4. From Best Practices to Breakthrough Practices - rather than improve
incrementally, companies should strive for 10x improvements in key areas,
such as time-to-market, functionality per unit cost (yes - we have several
examples of where this has been achieved).
5. From Knowledge Codification and Databases to Tradeable Knowledge Assets.
Although publishers have done it for some time, many other companies are
now realizing the opportunities from trading their databases e.g. fleet car
managers and car reliability information.
6. From Knowledge Processes to Knowledge Objects - just as computer
applications are going object oriented, so too will the application of
knowledge. We will package knowledge as objects (that might include an
information record, a multimedia clip, and access to a person) that can be
manipulated and transmitted in different ways. There will be knowledge
markets for them - precursors e.g. for IC design rights, already exist. See
7. From Knowledge Maps to Knowledge Navigators/Agents - maps are static
representations of objects, and without extensive realtime map making
capability (which could happen in the future) we need other ways to find
existing and emerging knowledge. These will be human brokers (people with
know-where and know-who) and intelligent software agents.
8. From Knowledge Centres to Knowledge Networks - although aggregating
knowledge and knowledgeable people at knowledge centres gives critical
mass, a more effective model may well be local nodes of expertise
interconnected through human and computer networks i.e. the virtual
9. From Knowledge Communities to Knowledge Markets - Communities are
emerging that provide an effective vehicle for knowledge exchange. But as
knowledge acquires value, and becomes 'productized' as objects (Shift 6)
these communities will develop payment mechanisms and other trappings of a
market place. The phrase "a penny for your thoughts" will have real meaning
- people microchips embedded under their skin which handle knowledge
transfer and micropayments under directives from the human brain!
10. From Knowledge Management to Knowledge Innovation. As ENTOVATION
Colleagues will know, Debra M. Amidon sees Knowledge Management as a
transition phase to something more fundamental. Management implies
custodianship and managing what you know - innovation is creating something
new and better, and that surely must be the ambition of all existing
knowledge managers. It certainly is for me.
Debra M. Amidon
Just as we are seeing different professions converging on the 'Emerging
Community of Knowledge Practice' (see my article in Knowledge Inc 3/97), we are seeing the emergence of specialist knowledge professionals. In our
report, Creating the Knowledge-based Business, we listed (pages 334-337) the variety of new titles and job responsibilities appearing in a variety of functions - knowledge engineer, knowledge editor, knowledge analyst, knowledge navigator, knowledge gatekeeper, knowledge brokers, knowledge handyman, knowledge asset manager, knowledge steward or shepherd etc. And these do not include the facilitation and coaching roles nor the functional job titles which are assuming the leadership role in many companies.
In recognition of this, we are now starting to see the emergence of
recruitment organizations specifically geared to these new posts. One such
is Knowledge Jobs Link (http://www.knowledgejobs.com). Unlike other recruitment web sites that electronically matches jobs to job seekers, the knowledge about knowledge specialists is itself highly specialized and
relies much on tacit knowledge. Knowledge Jobs Link is therefore a highly
confidential, executive level recruiting competence for organizations
interested in formalizing knowledge strategy and operations capabilities.
Jan Wyllie, Trend Monitor International
The disparity between the public's perception of the Y2K software
"timebomb" and the perception of people who have a detailed knowledge of
the phenomenon continues to increase dramatically, according to our latest
analysis of developments.
The majority public view which is supported by government and corporate
public relations is still that Y2K is a put up job by greedy software
programmers out to make some quick money. However, public perception is
beginning to move towards the view that there may be some disruption, but
that the technologists are in control. "They'll just spend what they have
to won't they. And we'll end up paying higher prices and taxes, just as it
always is." (London taxi driver, April 1998)
As Trend Monitor's content analysis suggested more than a year ago, the
perception of the most knowledgeable people is that Y2K is "systemic". In
other words, it is not just computerised information in financial
institutions that is compromised, but telecommunications,
transport, food production and distribution, even water and electricity,
are all seen to be compromised too, as well as virtually every company on
the stock exchange. In this way, for those who have studied the topic most,
Y2K challenges the existing order of whole economies, ecologies and
societies. The view of the increasing scope of the problem is coupled with
a growing number of reports of delays and failures in Y2K compliance
programmes in government, big business and SMEs. The litany of potential
problems with embedded chips continues to grow, although reports of
successful fixes are virtually non-existent.
Experts are becoming increasing certain that the "problem" is now
impossible to "solve" in time, whatever happens. They see the tangle of
effects and consequences as simply too complex to unravel. At the same
time, humanity's dependency on these compromised systems becomes clearer
and clearer, as more research is done.
There is no evidence in the sources monitored that the issue of how the Y2K
timebomb will impact on the economic consequences of the current Asian
economic crisis is yet being considered.
All over the world, the emerging issue is how to deal with the complexity
of economic, social and environmental consequences of the timebomb going
off in unpredictable ways.
(c) Trend Monitor International Ltd., June 20, 1998
Trend Monitor provides free intelligence on Y2K, or you can subscribe to
customized analyses and latest updates. http://www.trendmonitor.com
I liked your piece on trust (I3 UPDATE No. 19). Trust is immensely
important. The whole financial system, including paper money, works on
the basis: 'I promise to pay.' All you have when you have an investment
portfolio is a lot of pieces of paper which you trust are convertible into
On the negative side, we spend a fortune on mistrust: Auditors, inspectors
Locks, safes, passwords, security guards, police, prisons, armies, etc How
much useless activity we could eliminate if we could trust each other.
My brief reaction to your piece:
When we trust, we accept more or less risk. Some aspects of trust may be
based on assurance, safety checks, etc. other aspects of trust based on
reputation, experience (but the past may not be a reliable indication of
the future - see Popper's theory of falsification in science) or on
emotion, faith and hope. This is partly based on culture and individual
Lebensanschauung (view of the world), partly on how important it is to
get it right, i.e. what is at risk. In the case of an aeroplane or a
surgical procedure it may be a matter of life or death, in other cases the
risk may be trivial and even misplaced trust may not matter too much.
1. Trust in understanding: Do we understand each other's needs,
aspirations, intentions, values, rules of conduct, etc
2. Trust in intentions: Do we trust one another's intentions to do what
we agree. Do we trust their/our integrity, honesty, etc.
3. Trust in openness and fairness
4. Trust in capability - Do we have appropriate and sufficient knowledge,
skills, physical and mental resources to do what we promise
5. Trust in feasibility of success - is what is being asked and promised
actually doable. Sometimes the BIG HAIRY CHALLENGES (is that Collins and
Porras 'Built to Last?) may involve risking to do what may prove to be
6. Trust in performance - quality, reliability, accuracy timeliness.
(Right quality, right, price, right place, right time)
Greetings from Wimbledon
From the start, it was pretty obvious to me that KM should make a
difference to recruiting.
Better knowledge sharing is usually a key goal of knowledge management.
Knowledge is power. Shared knowledge shares power. Knowledge management,
therefore, shakes the patriarchal mental model of corporate structure. It
reveals the limits of executive prescience; in return, it recognizes the
collective and distributed wisdom of the organization as a whole. This
suggests that the role of the knowledge manager is not merely to introduce
new technologies and practices, but also to facilitate mindshifts at all
levels of the organization, and beyond into the industry of which it is a
part. Some pigeon! Some pigeonhole!
Let me share two views on knowledge management. First, it is not strategic
because, by trying to bring knowledge within the familiar rhetoric
applicable to tangible assets, it fails to make the
transition to the Knowledge Age. Second, knowledge management, by
perpetuating the assumption that more knowledgeable people act more
intelligently, unsuits itself for bridging the gulf which separates what we
know from what we do.
Therefore, if what we're doing isn't working, we have to do something
different. But what?
Common recruitment practice is merely an example of the larger phenomenon.
I have been unable to find any organization that is using its knowledge of
knowledge management to make a significant difference to recruiting
procedures, let alone a difference arising out of a new mindset. The
universal method, which is to trawl for resumes using position descriptions
as bait, seems as inevitable as death and taxes.
- Notwithstanding that it passes over a lot of good talent.
- Notwithstanding that it selects for focus and stability in an unstable, competitive business ecology.
- Notwithstanding that it faces the future by looking backwards.
Meanwhile, the characteristics of the Age -- rapid change, increasing
complexity, information overload and perpetual surprise -- are forcing
human resource functions to the center of the strategic stage. The
difference which knowledge management should make to recruiting is in the
need to supplement the process for filling vacant positions with a process
for exploring unforeseeable possibilities. To test, prove and exploit this
conclusion I am "productizing" it in a new business, custom-designed for
"intellectual capital". At the center is not shared ownership, but shared
enterprise. At this and all future stages the business is exploratory, and
the success of each individual depends entirely upon their ability to
interest and contribute value to others.
In the spirit of which ... you are hereby invited to participate, if you
are interested. No resumes -- just ideas turning into action, for fun and
1-2 July 1998. Building the Knowledge Management Framework: The New IT
Imperative, London. Business Intelligence.
Tel: +44 161 879 3399.
13-17 July 1998. Knowledge '98, London. Exhibition plus accompanying
3-5 August 1998. The World Innovation and Strategy Conference 1998 (WISC98)
incorporating ISQFD 98, Sydney.
10-12 August 1998. Winning Strategies for Knowlege Management, Chicago.
13-15 October 1998. KM Expo '98, Chicago.
22-23 October, 1998. Third Annual Symposium on Knowledge Management
"Lessons from the Leading Edge", Williamsburg, Virginia. AQPC.
6-11 December 1998, "The Emerging Leader Program" sponsored by the Global
Institute for Leadership Development. Palm Desert California.
For more details: +1 781 862 3157.
Knowledgeshop/Know Inc. is issuing a Call for Products, which you can see
The UK Government's vision of the Information Age. Prime Minister Tony
Blair (http://www.number-10.gov.uk) says "seize this moment - our
information age offers new opportunities for greater prosperity, and a
better quality of life"
© Copyright, 1998. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
This newsletter is copyright material. In the interests of dissemination of
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I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International News is a joint publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited and ENTOVATION International Limited - providers of trends analysis, strategic advice and workshops on knowledge management
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