KM in whose hands? Ha! LO20656

Stephen Wehrenberg (
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 07:50:17 -0500

Replying to LO20612 --

In response to John Dentico in LO20602 (Knowledge is perishable?)
In response to Fred Nichols in LO20608 (KM in whose hands?)
In response to Linda Wing in LO20612 (KM in whose hands?)

John Dentico said:

> I mean knowledge is perishable, what is needed is the
> ability to create, recreate, and apply learning.
> I mean really, is the knowledge we use today going to
> be the same knowledge we need six months from now ...

I'm not willing to go out on the same limb and say that knowledge is
perishable. Some knowledge is perishable, and I'm sure you are
referring to that type ... things like competitor's sales tactics,
stakeholders' concerns in implementing a particular policy, etc. But
some knowledge endures, and forms the basis of our ability to learn.
One of the things I have been working on is a process (note that though
technology figures into what follows, it is not the core of the effort!)
whereby people create "policy histories." For any substantial policies
or decisions, the people involved build a document (or links to
documents) that;

- creates the contextual environment for the policy
- explicitly notes the catalyst for action
- what problem is being solved or issue resolved
- the logic of the analysis or synthesis used to generate the policy
alternatives - how the decision was made
- what concrete (measurable) outcomes are intended
- who owns the policy - who will track the measures
- a finite date to assess whether the policy is meeting its intended
- any unintended side effects - the overall cost/benefit (or other
indicator of efficacy) of the policy

The overall effect is to capture the learning surrounding a particular
problem, issue, policy, or whatever. In the future (and somewhat in the
present!) analysts are able to consult this in a searchable database
(there's the technology!) when approaching new or related problems;
learn what works and what doesn't; figure out how things got the way
they are (allowing them to localize and disconnect bad stuff without
ruining the good stuff), etc.

Anyway, John, the point is there is knowledge that is perishable, and
there is knowledge that accumulates learning with history, the value of
which endures. I think we need both.

PS. I'll call soon about the scenario stuff!

Fred Nichols said:

> A similar thing happened with reengineering. It, too,
> got swallowed by IT. A shame, actually, because the
> power of reengineering is now masked by the cost of IT.

Amen. As you'll see in my note below, we have thrown out the goodness
and value of reengineering along with its evil side effects. With some
work, one could extract the value without invoking the evil twin.
(e.g., Don't FIRE the middle managers ... figure out where you will
really need them in the new order of things--and use it as an

Don't fret about being a Luddite ... it's the other guy who is in error

Replying to Linda Wing:


The "attention economy" has been alive and well for some time in the
advertising/marketing community. The Super Bowl is designed to deliver
you and me, as an audience, to a host of advertisers and potential
advertisers ... and you thought it was about football! (Probably not
you, but there are many out there who don't see the purpose of much of
what we experience in the media.)

Funny you should mention the expectations for a technological utopia ...
I've been doing some strategy work using a formal scenario planning
approach (a la Royal Dutch Shell), and of the five scenarios we have
given top management to build individual strategies around, one includes
the outright failure of technology, and the other is a world in which
technology fails to live up to its promises. The current (maybe one
ago) issue of "Futurist" magazine talks to a scenario based strategy in
which 2 of 4 worlds have high expectations for technology that are
unmet. I agree that our reliance on things technological is a pipe
dream, and a dangerous one at that. We learn to be helpless.

Why, then, do we believe? Or why do the naive believe? Why bury our
heads in the sand? In the world of government and business I think it
might be related to what I call the "Silver Bullet" or "Holy Grail"
syndrome. Having discovered that complex problems (and aren't they all
becoming that way? Wicked!) are hard to resolve, and that resolving them
requires much work (at least as much as it took to CREATE the
problems!), already overworked managers (many with organizationally
induced short attention spans) are always hoping for the deus ex machina
... that a wizard will come down from the sky and sprinkle some magic
dust around, our problems will be solved, and we will even wonder why we
thought we had problems in the first place ... "The answer was so
obvious! Why didn't we see it before? Oh fallible humans!"

(I predict the dust will subsequently prove to have been a powerful
hallucinogenic, by the way.)

Every year or so a new candidate for Silver Bullet status emerges from
the primordial swamp of creativity and good ideas (e. g. MBO, Quality
Circles, Deming, TQM, Reengineering, Systems Thinking, Knowledge
Management) and it is tested to see if it solves everything, and when it
is found lacking (as an immediate cure for world hunger) it is cast
aside on some dung heap of "ideas that might have worked but didn't do
enough fast enough and probably required more hard work than we had
hoped ..." The good parts (baby) are summarily cast out with the
"failure" (bath water).

Peter Senge bemoans the possibility that ST will become popular, get
simplified down to the Cliff's Notes version (no offense, Cliff), fail
to meet some egregiously unrealistic expectations, and fall off a cliff,
removed from the intellectual landscape.

I'm concerned that the core ideas of knowledge management, helping
people share information, making that information available to all, and
then giving them the tools, incentives, etc. to extract knowledge from
that information (sounds like a "lessons learned" system to me), may
suffer the fate of so many good ideas ... death by popularity, or the
collapse of innovation diffusion shown in a standard "fad curve."


PS. As I mentioned to Rick, the "Ted K." reference was to Theodor
Kaczynski, a fellow with a definite opinion about technology! Don't be
concerned for me, though--I don't support his "implementation strategy."

Stephen B. Wehrenberg, Ph.D.
HR Capability Development, US Coast Guard
Administrative Sciences, The George Washington University
"Born empowered."

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