KM: Primum non nocere
When does KM happy talk become crazy talk?
Knowledge management (KM) too often approaches the wrong organizational issues. Yet, the practitioners fail to acknowledge their grave problems. Frequently, offenders are those that advocate ‘knowledge sharing’ or worse, much worse, a ‘knowledge sharing culture.’ Among these common KM offenders, the most harmful, by far, are those that advance information technology and process methods for KM.
First, please note that upwards of 70-80% of KM efforts are either extremely challenged or outright failures.
The problem is self-absorbed KM people, vendors, consultants, etc., believe they can create entirely new methods and force them on an organization. That leads to confident failure and collapse.
Rather, people must recognize THEY serve the culture. The knowledge flow paths, the extant social network structures, aggregate behaviors, etc., are the culture. They are very powerful.
The key Latin maxim, taught to medical professionals for centuries, Primum non nocere (First, do no harm), is essential to KM people and consultants. Sadly, arrogance and technology are responsible for historical, expensive and widespread KM malfeasance.
For example, concerning knowledge sharing, most all organizations do NOT have knowledge sharing problems. In most all organizations, knowledge sharing is fine, thank you very much.
Once, at a municipal transportation authority, a large bureaucracy, they claimed a ‘knowledge sharing problem.’ They brought in a phalanx of ‘KM experts' to ‘solve the problem.’
At the same time the intervention started, a popular employee had her first baby. Literally, in a matter of minutes, the consultants discovered, the entire organization, of about 500 people, on many floors, in a downtown location, with very limited technology, knew the gender and weight of the new baby and that the mother was doing fine.
So much for the 'knowledge sharing' baloney.
Sophisticated information flow paths, nodes and hubs exist in this organization. They exist in every organization ever known. Identify and master these knowledge raceways and the knowledge problems are solved.
Meanwhile, they recognized they two problems were leadership and network comprehension. All knowledge-based organizations can be sharply improved with better leadership and network comprehension. Long story short, they corrected these issues and the problems were solved.
It is key to use techniques like appreciative inquiry, narrative, praxis intervention, conversation, social network analysis (SNA), dialectics and so on to divine the knowledge flow paths, influencers, network structures, etc., that define organizations. Focus on amplifying and mastering these sociological properties to achieve ever higher organizational signal–to-noise ratios.
Meanwhile, just forget about technology. It’s an expensive red herring. Above all, Primum non nocere.