Knowledge Management Fundamentals (Part One)

Grey Swan Guild
12 min readJan 21

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Callouts, watchouts, out takes and hot takes from our Craft-Building Series Edition #53

We convened a fast flowing, well-attended Grey Swan Guild craft-building session January 17th, 2023 with an all-star panel:

Attached is a link of our hour together: click here to watch.

Part two of our Knowledge Management series is an extended interview I conducted with Stephanie and Dmitry — not only are they steeped and proficient in knowledge management but also some of our best guests we have had the pleasure to work with.

For our Lionked Live webinar link : https://www.linkedin.com/video/event/urn:li:ugcPost:7012440080300609536/

A. Knowledge Management — Context

“Scientia potentia est” — ”Knowledge is power.”

Knowledge management (KM) is often intertwined with five other key organizational terms — learning, efficiency, innovation, leadership and agility.

A relative nascent discipline, knowledge management was coined as a term in the 1980s by Peter Drucker, and received momentum during the 1990s as mass recession-based layoffs led to the concern of important organizational knowledge exiting the building as well. With the phasing out of Total Quality Management (TQM) and the rise of the knowledge worker, KM received an added boost by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi’s 1995 book titled The Knowledge Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation.

Nonaka and Takeuchi’s book documented a move away from Western machine-based views of the organization to a more human, living organism-based view of the organization, with a heightened emphasis on more highly personal tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge being harder to formalize, more difficult to communicate to others, but considered by the authors fundamental to building craft, profession, technologies, products, markets, or team activities or organizations (see below Section F for Types of Knowledge breakdown).

KM’s strength can be its weakness — the discipline is so broad that it can have great impact, while at the same time, it can mean everything to everybody and create confusion on what its central aim might be.

In our panel discussion, we talked about four prevailing schools and proponents of knowledge management (KM):

  • the organizational value drivers
  • the technology transformers
  • the process change agents &
  • the people and talent community shapers

All have a major stake in the success of KM, but may see the art and science of the discipline through their own prism.

B. Knowledge Management — Quotes and Food for Thought

  • “We can know more than we can tell.” — Michael Polanyi
  • “To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge” — Nicolaus Copernicus
  • “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life” — Confucius
  • “Too often, people think of knowledge management as a noun. They’re mistaken: Knowledge Management is a verb, a way of getting work done” — Jeff Angus
  • “Of central importance is the changing nature of competitive advantage — not based on market position, size and power as in times past, but on the incorporation of knowledge into all of an organization’s activities” — Leif Edvinsson
  • “Knowledge management is something many companies are sure they need, if only they knew what it was.” –Mary Lisbeth D’Amico
  • “Put knowledge where people trip over it.” — Carla O’Dell
  • “You can’t manage knowledge — nobody can. What you can do is to manage the environment in which knowledge can be created, discovered, captured, shared, distilled, validated, transferred, adopted, adapted, and applied.”- Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell

C. The Event — Key Discussion Avenues

Our panel emphasized some ingoing directions:

  • KM is a large and increasingly important part of organization but is not well understood in the bigger picture — with an expected 20% CAGR revenue growth in KM software market, eclipsing over a trillion before 2025
  • KM merges and helps silos speak to each other; in essence, knowledge is our product collectively, particularly in most marketplaces where intangibles (know-how, people, process) are now more important than tangible assets (plants, inventories, assets)
  • With such currently high levels of employee turnover, how do we keep knowledge leaving the building and how do we accelerate knowledge acquisition to new employees and ensuring it helps build culture quickly ws deemed as a chief concern
  • KM people are innately interesting people with a lot of different interweaving interests and disciplines

and we surfaced a few new observations:

  • the potential for a new name for knowledge management and a split between factions that exists even after a quarter century of practice
  • the rise of generative AI/ChatGPT and its potential impact on the KM space
  • simply not just bringing google inside the building — the external world using search that is broad and shallow and the internal KM world that needs a narrow, deep approach to knowledge access
  • radical knowledge management and the need to fuse socio-technical solutions, ensuring flexibility and playfulness

D. Knowledge Management — Benefits

The top ranked benefits for Knowledge Management mindset, culture, strategies and implementation:

  • #1 Improving organizational agility and task efficiency
  • #2 Delivering better, faster decision making
  • #3 Quicker more accurate problem-solving
  • #4 Supporting employee growth, development and experience
  • #5 Increasing rates of innovation & stimulating growth
  • #6 Sharing for customer benefit and improved customer experience
  • #7 Liberating specialist, scarce, mercurial and tacit expertise
  • #8 Better communication of knowledge to use widely and quickly
  • #9 Creating improved, repeatable business processes & transformation
  • #10 Streamlining work through common knowledge assets — methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples
  • #11 Avoiding redundancy of efforts
  • #12 Leveraging size and scale of large organizations, scale ups or fast growth startups
  • #13 Preparing for crisis, Grey Swan moments and new WFA practices
  • #14 Codifying how knowledge breakthroughs develop and reapplying them
  • #15 Active learning — on-demand, easy-to-access knowledge gives opportunity to learn instantaneously and internalize novel information faster

E. Knowledge Management — 11 Challenges

The top ranked challenges of using and implementing knowledge management:

  • #1 Increasing Knowledge Management Adoption across Organization
  • #2 Keeping Your Knowledge Management System Current
  • #3 Incentivizing a Culture of Knowledge Sharing/Avoiding Silos
  • #4 Embracing, Onboarding and Integrating KM Technologies
  • #5 Sponsorship and Endorsement from Upper Management
  • #6 Clumsy, Slow and Imperfect Knowledge Sharing
  • #7 Measuring the Impact & Value of Knowledge Management
  • #8 Privacy and Security of IP and Knowledge
  • #9 Runaway Technology Budgets, Overkill and Niche Apps
  • #10 Rewarding Contribution and Not Layering Worker Complexity Beyond Base Job
  • #11 Worker Turnover, Job Shifting and Interrupted Accountability
Respondent’s believed the sharing of knowledge was KM’s biggest benefit
Accessibility of KM information led to better satisfaction
Silos were deemed the biggest concern in KM (Source: Deloiitr)

F. Knowledge Management — Type of Knowledge

Six types of knowledge, information and data that KM can capture:

  • Explicit Knowledge — knowledge that is straightforwardly expressed and shared e.g. standard operating procedures, how to Guides, onboarding docs, databases, records and files
  • Implicit Knowledge — the know-how gained from applying efforts e.g. Q&A platform, mentorship platform, how to videos for complex knowledge, a-ha moments, new process documentation
  • Declarative Knowledge — descriptive or propositional knowledge, generally static that should be known by all employees e.g. basic principles, glossary, vision statement, concepts, job performance metrics, company goals
  • Tacit Knowledge — achieved through experience that an individual can’t recall and express e.g. job coaching, leadership skills, writing tips
  • A Posteriori Knowledge — subjective type of knowledge that is gained from diverse individual experience usually only after it happens e.g. recollections about previous individual experience, new observations
  • A Priori Knowledge — knowledge that is acquired before and independently of any particular experience e.g. logic, formulae, truths, events, evidence

G. How to Improve Knowledge Management

Interventions that can make knowledge management work harder in companies:

  • Seed Culture Incentives: reward, encourage knowledge sharing behaviors across their teams. set up a safety net of trust of sharing and identify successes in high profile ways
  • Create Communities of Practice: create forums to ask questions, facilitate learning and knowledge transfer, identify subject matter experts, go outside the building for leading voices and reduce dependencies on the one lone specialist
  • Implement Software for Fit — centralize your organization’s knowledge for easier retrieval by employees with size of group, volume & importance of knowledge, types of essential knowledge, privacy required, form factor (e.g. video, tables, lists, Q&A) as key consideration
  • Section Off Knowledge - create relevant categories, tagging and hierarchies for projects, teams or other groups of documentation, to improve search speed and avoid overwhelming
  • Track Key KM Metrics — what’s trending, what’s popular, number of users engaged and article ratings all may be good consideration to act on
  • Identify Executive Sponsorship — create upper level champions for staffing, reviewing performance, ensuring resources and keeping KM updated
  • Author for Experience — easy to search terms, clickable table of contents, plain, conversational tone, highlighted sections, using visuals, splitting long articles and using external tools like Grammar.ly or Otter may all help to improve readability of KM content universe

H. Knowledge Management Maturity Ratings

Key signs that can point to organizations using KM as a tool of strategic value:

  • moving from developing competency in one function, to being able to use KM effectively across an organization, or many organization
  • moving from ad hoc, just get the job done, to some standardized KM processes, to continuous KM. improvement
  • moving from recognition of need, to understanding its potential, to realizing KM value, to harnessing it as a strategic tool and competitive advantage (as evidenced by TSIA’s KM maturity model below)

Notably, larger organizations tend to use KM well, smaller organizations may either not be resourced or believe knowledge might be better passed down and transferred more informally viaword of mouth:

For a full breakdown of14 different maturity models, click on the 2011 Knowledge Management Maturity Model: An Engineering Approach

I. Knowledge Management — 2023 Trends

What are the most relevant developments in knowledge management for this coming year, here are some below:

J. The Impact of AI on Knowledge Management —

AI may help advance knowledge management in a number of respects:

  • Enhancing smarter knowledge discovery — natural language processing and chatbots may bring relevant content based on keywords, speech/text analytics can automatically generate relevant tags, alerting KM owners to fill in gaps.
  • Assisting employees in content creation and upkeep — AI can assist in writing, correcting and enriching content, evaluating the impact on user through analytics, providing suggestions for better experience, readability, glossary and connected themes
  • Accelerating learning and skills enhancement — using gamification and nudging to let employees acquiring new skills based on their learning styles, current expertise, pace of acquisition and relevant knowledge pools
  • Building leading collaboration among employees — potentially boosting the user experience and accelerating the learning curve to zero of internal employees, supply chain, vendors and external users and customers as they are able to have meaningful conversations, and adding in real time collaboration

Here’s how AI isn’t necessarily a replacement for humans but is an enhancement:

K. The Biggest Debates in Knowledge Management

Perhaps fodder for our May, 2023 third anniversary of our guild 24–hour “Day of the Swan” event:

L. Alternate Models/Methodologies in Knowledge Management

Here are some alternate considerations for architecting KM in your companies:

The Nonaka — Takeuchi Model knowledge management model
The KM Matrix by Gamble and Blackwell
Entelechy’s Radical Knowledge Management: https://www.realisation-of-potential.com/radical-km/

M. Top Solution Providers in Knowledge Management

Hundred of providers could fall under the landscape of knowledge management and personal knowledge management software vendors, depending on interpretation. So many exists, that Gartner, who normally would magic quadrant rate and rank this space, views it more as a discipline not a distinct market.

Here are some of the familiar names and logos below:

Source: Software Advice
Scan Top 20 Knowledge Management Firms rated for 2023: https://www.knowledgehut.com/blog/it-service-management/knowledge-management-software (Source: Knowledge Hut)
Ranking of Customer Satisfaction vs. Usability https://www.softwareadvice.com/help-desk/knowledge-management-comparison/ Source; Software Advice
View Ness Labs — Personal Knowledge Management’s Favourites: https://nesslabs.com/the-state-of-personal-knowledge-management

For a full listing of the 100 companies that matter in Knowledge Management, have a look at KM World’s 100 KM Companies That Matter for 2022.

N. Top Helpful & Inspiration Resources & Media in Knowledge Management

Stan Garfield’s Mediam posts are a great compendium of resources: https://stangarfield.medium.com/
Consider Feedcast’s top 10 Knowledge Management podcasts: https://blog.feedspot.com/knowledge_management_podcasts/
For a comporehensive list, read Stan Garfield’s index of KM books: https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/kmbooks

O. Knowledge Management — What Did We Learn

Here’s what we learned from the session:

  • You can’t learn it all about KM — a passionate community is needed
  • KM has a lot of directions and facets, you simply can’t know all of it
  • KM can motivate employees and take them on a voyage of discovery
  • KM has many facets — having a well-balanced view is preferred to a uni-dimensional one r.g. some people believe KM is simply about Sharepoint or whatever organizing technology platform you are using
  • How can we make KM less daunting and more accessible for others?

The Craft Building Series — Learning, Relearning and Unlearning

Every month we host unique sessions that aid our guild in building our craft in making sense of the world.

Our experiences attempt to mint four key elements together

  • passionate intelligent people
  • smart relevant topics
  • multimedia events and curation
  • a mission of making sense of the world

We think we achieved this alchemy in our first session of 2023.

Have a look at our full 2023 Craft-Building Series (and our soon to be launched premium Masterclasses).

https://greyswanguild.medium.com/the-2023-grey-swan-guild-craft-building-series-3d37e8c00b3c

Next Craft Building Event #54 — Kinesthetics, Physical Learning, Embodiment & Muscle Memory

Come join us on February 14th for a different type of knowledge and learning experience: Click here.

https://www.linkedin.com/video/event/urn:li:ugcPost:7016863464153395201/

Grey Swan Guild — Improving Our Craft Together

We are the Guild whose mission it to make sense of the world and next Grey Swans. In 2023, we don’t just want to think about the unimaginable but we want to make the unimaginable happen.

In the interim, here’s what you can do in the Guild:

Learn: https://www.greyswanguild.org/
Read: https://greyswanguild.medium.com/
Attend: https://www.greyswanguild.org/calendar
Become an Official Guild Member: https://bit.ly/gsgsmemberform
Go Deeper: https://bit.ly/lofsenseform
Join a Venture: https://bit.ly/gsgventures

Participate in 2023 Guild events & projects: https://bit.ly/gsgparticipationregister2023
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Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.

The Guild Hub: https://www.greyswanguild.org/

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Grey Swan Guild

Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢