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July/Sept 2003    Main Feature
a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda
No. 75

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Managing editor:
David J. Skyrme


75 Knowledge Nuggets:
A Chronology of Insights from I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International News

David J. Skyrme

We did 50 knowledge nuggets for our 50th edition (April 2001), and these were arranged thematically. The selection of the 75 nuggets here - one from each edition - are entirely new and arranged chronologically, which gives you a perspective of how the knowledge agenda and our thoughts about it have evolved over the years.


The Early Years (1993-1997)

"Three of the seven 'proactive management' guidelines [from DTI's Innovation Pack] are think and act globally, collaborate, know the competition." - I3 UPDATE No. 1 (October 1993).

"At the heart of many failures to exploit IT to the full is the undue emphasis on the logical and the rational. What is also needed, though, is a complementary focus on the intuitive, social and human aspects of computer systems." - No. 2 (July 1994).

"Consulting firm Gemini estimates that it now sources 15 per cent of information needed for client work from the Internet compared to only 1 per cent 18 months ago." - No. 3 (March 1995).

"Isn't it interesting that Deutsche Bundesbahn, who provide the service (as part of your CompuServe subscription) gives a better service that British Rail?!" [An article in the Sept 2003 edition of the magazine Internet says that there is "general agreement that the best place to get UK online train times is from the German railways site at" - illustrating that even local services can be performed globally] - No. 4 (October 1995).

"'It's not what you know but who you know' goes an old adage. This was never truer than today, as downsizing and restructuring take place, and many organisations lose vital knowledge." - No. 5 (April 1996).

"There is plenty of opportunity there [on the Internet] for everyone, but investing large sums of money does not guarantee success. After all the Internet is a market where knowledge is power and entry barriers low." - No. 6 (November 1996).

"Knowledge creation and development processes are complex and do not lend themselves to highly structured engineering approaches - it's not about databases, it's about making sense of the environment, and using the power of people's minds." - No. 7 (December 1996).

"Compared to last year, when many traditional online providers were dismissive of the Internet, this year they have at least recognised it." - report about Online 96 in No. 8 (January 1997).

"Is knowledge management the same as information management? Apparently not, according to the title. But during research for the forthcoming Business Intelligence report, we found quite a few cases where people had substituted the word "Knowledge" for "Information", and then carried on just as if nothing was different." - No. 9 (March 1997).

"Whatever your organizational strategy, there is a lot to be said for doing an information analysis on your own personal information needs and information handling. A recent survey suggested that 90 per cent of people have difficulty finding information that they know is somewhere at hand (lost on the C: drive?). You will often be surprised at how much information that "you can't afford to miss" is channelling your way as part of a deluge that you can in fact do without." - No. 10 (May 1997).

"Every knowledge worker should belong to at least two separate teams. This helps the organization achieve cross functional co-operation; it helps the individuals gain a broader perspective." - No. 11 (June 1997).

"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." - Jan Wyllie in No. 12 (July/August 1997).

"The most important asset of an entrepreneur's new company is what and who they know." - results of research into entrepreneurship reported in No. 13 (September/October 1997).

"Bean counting, slicing and dicing. There is no doubt many people love counting. One can also observe that many people create unnecessary work. Armies of accountants, analysts and auditors count everything they can see (the tangibles). The result is the creation of reports and accounts that some regard as 'works of fiction' - a bit harsh, since they are generally true as far as they go - the problem is they do not go far enough or go in the wrong direction." - No. 14 (November 1997).

"Above all, give them [communities of practice] 'space' (physically and metaphorically) to develop and grow. In summary, this represent the style of management needed in a knowledge-enriching organizations. Such communities are self organizing, and the role of management - where it exists - is to provide the appropriate environment and tools for these communities to flourish, by providing the context, and using the techniques of facilitation, mentoring and coaching." - No. 15 (December 1997).

Coming Of Age (1998-1999)

"In short, they [knowledge centres] are a focal point for collection, structuring and disseminating information. That does not mean they do it all themselves. They set the framework and structures, develop the good practice guides, and provide information management expertise." - No. 16 (January 1998).

"Why is it that many large companies are not as innovative as smaller newer ones? If innovation is to succeed in larger companies, lack of creativity is generally not the issue. It is providing the environment, people support processes and organizational climate that stimulates and supports idea conversion." - No. 17 (March 1998).

"'If you're not twitching, you're not working' was the phrase once used by a manager I know. His notion was that if you were not on the phone, typing away at your computer keyboard, talking to someone, or in meetings, then you were obviously not working. The idea that you could sit still, read a magazine or even shut your eyes and THINK was an anathema!" - ENTOVATION International News joined I3 UPDATE from this edition, No. 18 (April 1998).

"The answer could simply be that they don't know any better, or that market orientation has not yet dawned as a concept in the corporate knowledge base of the KM fraternity - so much for knowledge management. Another equally worrying answer could be that Knowledge Management has been coined amongst an enclave of mainly IT/IS folk who are busy rediscovering much of what the HR community has known for ever - that IT/IS needs to serve something other than itself - information needs certainly, and beyond that, the needs of people who actually have to use and exchange information." - Rose Dixon lamenting the poor presence of KM suppliers at a major HR conference and exhibition - No. 19 (May 1998).

"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 value. 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." John Farago, No. 20 (June 1998).

"A recent Information Week article (19th June 1998), cited strong demand for CKOs and CLOs (Chief Learning Officers). The article noted that there appears to be no standard qualifications. Frank Bordonaro, CLO at Prudential Insurance says that the most fundamental requirement is the right temperament: 'a propensity towards calculated risk, a dissatisfaction with the status quo and an impulse to integrate things that haven't been integrated'." - No. 21 (July 1998).

"Even though there is often only one cellphone in a village, and the Internet is coming, the connections are being made and the population wants to be part of the global information society. It is this human element, as Yunus says that is the key: 'the opportunity is created by human ingenuity, and that's the excitement of living'". - about Bangladesh in No. 22 (August 1998).

"Past experience has not put MIS functions in a good light with developments in end-user computing. Their heritage in centralized transaction systems meant that many were slow to respond, first to PCs and then the Internet. Many were stridently dismissive! Can we be sure that they have now taken on board these lessons? The surest way to gain business and user confidence is that they themselves become models of exemplary KM practice." - No. 23 (September 1998).

"The education system through which most of us progressed, emphasized transfer of knowledge, much of which has a relatively short lifetime. What we were not taught, at least explicitly, was how to think, how to learn, how to organize information, how to encapsulate knowledge or transfer tacit knowledge." - No. 24 (October 1998).

"Even organizations that have been recognized in awards for leadership knowledge practices are usually the first to admit that they are good in only a few of the many areas they would like to be. Many find it difficult to change the culture and make knowledge management more than skin-deep. The challenges of embedding good knowledge management practice throughout an organization are formidable." - No. 25 (November 1998).

"What, then, is the evolving role for the University in the knowledge economy? It is only a node - albeit important node - in the learning network. Faculty members are becoming mentors, coaches in the learning process - not necessarily the content experts in a given field." - Debra Amidon, No. 26 (December 1998).

"The creators of Invention Machine found that virtually every innovation is the result of a relatively small number of standard principles. However, as we know, the power of knowledge is in its combinatorial arithmetic. By taking different variations of a few parameters the number of unique combinations is huge." - No. 27 (February 1999).

"The choice of knowledge 'management' is really the limiting factor. Ultimately, we will get to the point of seeing things from the perspective of 'knowledge era enterprising'." - Charles Savage, No. 28 (April 1999).

"Don't think that because there is not too much visibility on the knowledge management scene by a country is not bursting with insight and direction with the new agenda." - Debra Amidon, No. 29 (May 1999).

"There is a significant difference between 'customer knowledge' and 'knowledge of the customer.' Few organizations comprehend the distinction - never mind put it into practice. Most organizations are still operating as innovation value chains where the customer is at the end of the delivery system." - Debra Amidon, No. 30 (June 1999).

"While these new software products [Enterprise Portals] will entice you through an impressive gateway to information, let us not forget that it is only good content and good knowledge management with strong human involvement that will stop them creating trapdoors to trivia." - No. 31 (July 1999).

"Just as with the Egyptians, Persians, Minoans, Greeks, Abassynians, and Europeans of times past, the future belongs to those who have the willingness to venture into the unknown. They used their intuition, imagination, sense of adventure, and tools they innovated to explore the environment beyond the limits." - Debra Amidon, No. 32 (September 1999).

"Product innovation ignores process and social innovation. Innovation is often mixed up with Invention! One can only be creative when you have 'know-how'. Gurus in the tower are obsolete…as well as being wrong." - Debra Amidon paraphrasing Albert Hochleitner, Director General of Siemens Austria, No. 33 (October 1999).

"An interesting feature of the conference [Knowledge Economy 99, Beijing], and one that other conference organizers could usefully emulate, was that of having a discussant after every talk. The discussant summarized the highlights and added some of their own perspectives on the topic just presented. This added a level of knowledge richness not normally available in the traditional conference format." - No. 34 (November 1999).

"Even then [1983], we realized the base of knowledge did not reside inside the firm. Creativity and new ideas often came from alliance partners, customers and even competitors. We knew that there were connections that needed to be managed and not left to serendipity." - Debra Amidon, No. 35 (December 1999).

New Millennium - New Perspectives (2000-2001)

"An inescapable fact is that new knowledge is being generated at a prodigious rate. We are on the threshold of amazing breakthroughs in new applications of knowledge in fields such as genetics and nano-engineering. Yet many breakthroughs confront orthodox thinking. We can think back to building machines that fly, iron ships that float, bombs that bounce on water, a clockwork radio, and a timely one - the search for precision timepieces to determine Longitude" - No. 36 (January 2000).

"If buyers and sellers had listened to the traditionalists, ecommerce would not have developed as much as it has today. Traditional banks were telling customers about how insecure the Internet was ...the early entries by traditional retailers were abysmal (many still are!). Nevertheless, a combination of easier to use software, innovative web start-ups (e.g. and early adopters has put Internet commerce firmly on the map." - No. 37 (February 2000).

"The selection of indicators should be based on your objectives and should be balanced across customers, internal processes, intellectual capital etc. A useful tip is to make sure you distinguish Input, Output and Outcome." - No. 38 (March 2000).

"Well. It finally happened. Those stratospheric prices on stocks have finally come down to earth - with a bump. Some have labelled the hype around IPOs as dot.con!" - No. 39 (April 2000).

"While the above efforts [XML etc.] will help create a utility like infrastructure, at least for information, the ultimate measure of success of a knowledge utility is - not surprisingly - that it should have utility i.e. value to the user." - No. 40 (May 2000).

"The answers may lie within the Knowledge Millennium Generation. Youth of the world will transform our economy in ways we may not have previously imagined. They are highly educated, technologically astute and internationally networked. " - Debra Amidon, No. 41 (June 2000).

"The dances of capitalism mark 500 and more years of market creation, from the weekly village markets to the 24 hours/7 days-global village e-markets. What we are seeing nowadays is a radical change both in consumer and producer behaviour." - Piero Formica, No. 42 (July 2000).

"Just as any other organization, a professional body will be competing for people, for resources and for attention. Many associations do not seem to realize that they no longer have captive memberships and that they must look at how they can use their (knowledge) assets to deliver more value and better services to their members." - No. 43 (September 2000).

"The core insight inspiring this book [The Springboard by Stephen Denning] is that people seek to influence each other by making up and telling stories. Once stated, the idea seems so obvious, like something we have known all along. Yet so many of the precepts of management are designed to hide this simple truth behind a screen of pseudo-scientific certainties. " - Jan Wyllie, No. 44 (October 2000).

"Providers of knowledge should occasionally add something above the ordinary that wraps knowledge into something more interesting. Perhaps knowledge managers should think of infotainment as a way of getting their knowledge across." - No. 45 (November 2000).

"The biggest gap of all, however, is the knowledge gap. No sooner do we conquer one knowledge summit, then a whole new array of other peaks unfolds before us. That's what continues to make knowledge management a continuing and evolving challenge." - No. 46 (December 2000).

"Indeed, those nations that seek to establish viable and sustainable economic prosperity will inevitably turn toward managing (and measuring) what we now consider the intangible wealth of the nation. As more nations focus upon the human capital and the innovation process (i.e., how knowledge is created converted into products and services and applied), we have an opportunity to increase the standard of living worldwide." - Debra Amidon, No. 47 (January 2001).

"And so, how do you 'shatter the mold' as you suggest? My practical suggestion is to create a compelling, distinctive vision that - like a magnet - draws people forward. Make sure that it capitalizes upon its heritage and unique knowledge base. Build the foundation underneath that sustains a realization of that vision. Create the standards rather than belaboring best practices. Become the enterprise to emulate." - Debra Amidon, No. 48 (February 2001).

"The core premise of the future is collaboration. This does not mean that organizations do not compete; competition is inevitable. It does mean that their orientation shifts to one of sharing and leveraging one another for mutual success. In national and global terms, this is described as creating the common good from which all benefit." - Debra Amidon, No. 49 (March 2001).

"Positioning themselves as 'the next step for e-collaborative manufacturing', the Global Factory Network is the first 'collaborative manufacturing execution platform'. For the first time, all parties in a manufacturing chain can operate as if communicating from within one enterprise. This breakthrough development means that outsourced manufacturing can now be globally managed as easily and consistently as in-house operations." - Debra Amidon, No. 50 (April 2001).

"Unless knowledge management is 'connected' to the real world of customers, goals and strategies, business and management processes, and performance systems, it will remain theoretical and detached. I am reminded of a comment made by a BP person about knowledge management: 'where's the oil?'. It's a knowledge manager's job to show where the 'oil' is in your KM strategy." - No. 51 (June 2001).

"The one thing that has stuck me in this whole area is that some of the most successful KM implementations, making a business case was the last thing on people's minds. They just went ahead and did it, learning and measuring as they progressed. But that takes knowledge leadership, something which in far too many organizations is still sadly lacking." - No. 52 (July/August 2001).

"Was there really a massive failure of intelligence, or was it a failure to act on what was known? Modern technologies, whether aeroplanes or the Internet, can be used for both good and evil. How much are we each prepared to give up individual freedoms for the sake of the wider good?" - thoughts on the events of September 11, No. 53 (September 2001).

"But the best way of transferring many best practices is 'on-the-job'. Therefore, someone who wants to really learn will need to observe the 'best practitioner' at work and question them. Often this questioning will make the practitioner think and reassess their own approach, so that both existing knowledge has been transferred and also new knowledge gained." - No. 54 (October 2001).

"How seriously does your firm take capturing the knowledge of people who are about to leave? And after they leave, do you still maintain contact or is the exit interview your wit's end." - No. 55 (November 2001).

"In many organizations, training and learning are seen as quite separate from knowledge management. Some of this separation is historical, since the traditional view of learning is that it takes place in courses held in classrooms. For many types of learning this is increasingly unrealistic." - No. 56 (December 2001).

Mature and Reflective (2002-2003)

"A good CV relies on a good analysis of your value to prospective employers. A good starting point is to think of yourself as a provider of valuable intellectual capital." - No. 57 (January 2002).

"Although many corporate buyers may have ambitions to have enterprise-wide software, the reality is that many enterprises are pockets of smaller (team and division) initiatives. Often, it might just make sense to experiment with low cost interoperable components and grow your enterprise systems from the bottom up." - No. 58 (February 2002).

"Social network mapping specifically maps who, in a group or organization, shares knowledge with whom. This is the social capital of the entity being mapped." Xenia Stanford, No. 59 (March 2002).

"A common finding amongst all - portals take much longer and cost much more to implement widely and to embed into the organization than you originally estimate. There's nothing new in that - just a bit of knowledge we often tend to overlook!" - No. 60 (April 2002).

"You know when a subject has come of age when it is packaged for the lay person, as well as the professional specialist. There is already a 'Complete Idiot's Guide to Knowledge Management', which is not as silly as it sounds." - No. 61 (May 2002).

"It is up to every one of us, to use the power of our knowledge vigilantly and not be afraid to put our head above the parapet and make our voice heard. "I told you so" in hindsight is of less value than "don't do it or else.." in foresight." - No. 62 (June 2002).

"Siemens refers to its approach as socio-technical combining 'a global community of knowledge and best practice sharing' enabled by a 'user-friendly search and retrieval system'. It blends 'knowledge objects' with 'knowledge communities'." - No. 63 (July 2002).

"My own experience is that knowledgeable people do like to share their expertise - just listen to them in the bar after work. It's just something about their work environment that discourages this natural inclination." - No. 64 (August 2002).

"H. Humans. Perhaps one the best technologies. Humans are generally smart and have common sense. Most of an organization's knowledge is tacit knowledge. Therefore, perhaps when considering KM technologies, we should spend more time looking at technologies that help humans share and evolve their knowledge better, rather than focusing on those that capture human knowledge into databases." - from the A-Z of Knowledge Technology, No. 65 (September 2002).

"We are only as strong as our weakest country; and so the world is dependent upon your success. This requires the 7Is: Innovation is important, Indicators will be new, Integration of existing efforts, Intellectual Capital managed as a renewable resource, International economies of scale and scope, Intelligence gathering about competition and Individuals providing the foundation of action." - Debra Amidon, No. 66 (October 2002).

"So the first point to consider when you are considering your next career move, is do you want a job, or do you really want a certain type and mix of work assignments? Do you want to fit into an existing job or create your own job? What I am suggesting is that for many people seeking a knowledge 'job' could be a constraint on your career, compared to exploiting your knowledge anchors." No. 67 (November 2002).

"The Knowledge Economy was never about the bubble. We've done a lousy job of connecting the idea - knowledge as an asset - to purchasing and ultimately, the bottom line." - Tom Stewart, cited in No. 68 (December 2002).

"The bottom line of measurement is that you are measuring for a purpose. If you treat IC measurement as simply a numbers game, you lose a lot of richness." - No. 69 (January 2003).

"Using the power of the Internet, stone by stone, the walls separating nations and cultures are being dismantled, replaced by a global community dedicated to the improved well-being of all the world's citizens. The root belief of this movement is that by knowing one another, we will know not to hate one another. The mantra is innovation. The vehicle is shared knowledge." - Debra Amidon, No. 70 (February 2003).

"The future of innovation, national and even local prosperity, lies in more effective knowledge networking at a global level - sharing knowledge for the common good, jointly exploring new opportunities and co-developing new initiatives in a spirit of collaboration." - No. 71 (March 2003).

"For many organizations KM is a journey - you pass interesting places, you learn more as you travel, you rejuvenate yourself, but there are the inevitable detours and dead ends. As for your ultimate destination - will you ever arrive?" - No. 72 (April 2003).

"'When the man IS the mountain...'. Dr. George Kozmetsky was one of the few mentors I never could outgrow. He was there ahead of us all; and with his courage and conviction, he guided us into the future with extraordinary vision and kindness. I can still remember the day in 1988 when he provided me a stage, instructed me to: "Only talk about the 'new' stuff" - and sat in the front row with an open notebook and pen. In short, he was a prime example of how the 'leaders are learners'! On Wednesday April 30th 2003, George passed on and has gone where I am certain he is now inspiring the angels." - In Memorium, George Kozmetsky, by Debra Amidon - No, 73 (May 2003).

"The true test of whether you are coping with these shifts and trends is not whether you are predicting them accurately, but whether you have factored different scenarios into your forward planning. Think about the implications - the opportunities and threats - to the way that you currently manage and exploit your knowledge for the benefit of your organization. How will such shifts affect your investment decisions? How can they be harnessed to your advantage?" - No. 74 (June 2003).

"As a specialist in a generic management discipline like KM, you are one step removed from the external customer interface where added value is more tangible. You need to ask yourself: knowledge for what?! - No. 75 (July/Sept 2003).

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