You Cannot Manage Knowledge, You Can Only Set It Free ...

In recent years companies have introduced a variety of software applications designed to manage things that can't be managed by software. Customer Relationship Management software doesn't manage customer relationships; customer service people do. Supplier Relationship Management software doesn't manage supplier relationships; procurement people do. Product Lifecycle Management doesn't manage product lifecycles; engineers and the market do.

Peter DruckerThe list goes on, but the most ludicrous of all the categories is knowledge management. How can software proclaim it manages something that resides inside people's heads?
Peter Drucker said it best when he said, "You do not manage knowledge. Knowledge is between two ears, and between two ears only."

The applications that claim to manage knowledge actually manage information or documents, which is not at all the same thing as knowledge. There is definitely a place for applications like that. Helping companies to create an easily navigable structure so that employees can find and access an important piece of information has value, just not a lot of value.

With the rapid pace of change in most industries, companies need to be able to change direction quickly. New product introductions occur more frequently than ever before in history. For example, if the information from customer feedback surveys that rates possible new features is in a document stored by marketing in the company's vast data array, it doesn't help the design team come up with the next great product idea.

Global distribution channels mean that a product issue can have far reaching consequences if problems are not caught and corrected quickly. In the face of a potential recall or catastrophic product failure, the team responsible for solving the problem may not know that the answer is in a white paper outlining a recovery plan that is stored somewhere in the bowels of the information archives. They may spend time recreating a recovery plan.

Companies can't expect that an employee will know the answer they seek is in an existing document. As the old saying does "You don't know what you don't know." And when the pressure is on to move fast, agile organizations respond, even if they end up wasting time and money recreating information that already exists inside the company.

More than so-called knowledge management systems, what companies actually need is the sharing and transfer of knowledge from one individual to another, or to a group of others. Knowledge sharing is a social activity, not a technical one.

Companies would do better to develop processes that encourage people to communicate and to share their knowledge freely with others on the team. By fostering a healthy collaborative environment, companies can leverage the knowledge that already exists in the minds of its people. The best way to do this is to provide social media tools that facilitate interactions between people.

What companies should be looking for are tools that encourage knowledge sharing and transfer. Some examples are:

  • Training teams in the ways that extroverts and introverts communicate
  • Instilling respect for individual points of view and backgrounds into the company culture
  • Sharing success
  • Not punishing people for mistakes
  • Being open about problems and objectives
  • Celebrate innovation by consensus
  • Reward knowledge sharing

Educating employees on how to communicate and work in teams is the best way to achieve these values and keep employees motivated to innovate. Along with education, companies need to provide technology tools that support the desired behaviors.

  1. Providing a message board where employees can start project discussions is one way to deal with key team members who are not co-located. It allows someone to leave a message and pick up the answer whenever the other person responds.
  2. In a global organization, it can be helpful to have insight into other people's "presence" or availability. Knowing that a co-worker who can help with a problem is in a meeting or is likely to have gone home for the evening is valuable if it saves time.
  3. Conferencing tools should include simple high-quality video as well as high-quality voice. People get bored listening to disembodied voices. Seeing the people they work with is always more interesting.
  4. The worst failing is forcing employees to participate in a conference call when the main group is clustered around a single microphone. Educate employees on how to act in a telephone meeting. There should be no side meetings, no private jokes and no talking over each other if you want people on the other end of the line to participate fully and give the team the benefit of their knowledge.
  5. Cloud based application software for document editing or project management can make it easy for far-flung teams to work together.
These are just a few examples of ways companies can truly manage the knowledge within the organization. By making it possible for people to communicate easily, quickly and respectfully, knowledge will be easily managed. Knowledge will be flowing constantly from the brain of one highly motivated employee to another, not just sitting in a computer storage directory.


Opened by Antoine Fournier, Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance
Oct 4, 2012.

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Martin Goetze Senior Consultant, ISIS Papyrus Europe AG
Oct 6, 2012

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Yes! and one more time: Yes! Isn't it a remarkable sign in itself that the social paradigm has become so special, that we have to label technologic tools 'social' in order to convey the message that knowledge exchange by conversation is beneficial ?

Some years ago i have been consulting a company to introduce a Document Management System and provided training and expertise to a group of employees, when i had a moment where i stressed the importance of 'transferring knowledge', when i tried to convince some developers of my software training course that it is in their interest to multiply the knowledge received in this workshop in order to improve and speed up innovation in their company. So i said to the guys: "You know, i explain it to you in a way that you can teach your colleagues, so please spread your knowledge around, i am sure that will benefit your company." The answer i received tells a lot,...they said: "But when we tell everyone how it works, we are not important anymore and our job is at risk"...

I am convinced that this is an anachronistic way of thinking, fostered by the culture of competition and rivalry and ultimately counterproductive to productivity and innovation.

Similar developments are obvious in the world of academia and industry. In academia the knowledge transfer is thwarted by the culture of subscription journals (and it is a blessing that online scientific interaction outside the traditional journal space is becoming more and more important to academic communication (http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1339822.1339965)
In the world of industry and corporations the patent wars are preventing innovation and progress because of antiquated models of intellectual property and turf wars of big tech companies.

Knowledge has an intrinsic motivation to be shared and will break free anyway. If we need to declare a "social media revolution" now, or label our new tools to exchange knowlede specifically "social", in order to overcome the obstacles which have been set by competition culture, then so be it.
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Roz Bennetts B2B Sales, B2B Sales Professional
Oct 16, 2012

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Hi Antoine, you are correct in all your observations about what else is important with CRM and so on and I in no way want to diminish your insights (which I agree with) but I do want to defend these tools and the value they do bring:

1. They do a good job of organising client data for easy retrieval.
2. They encourage and foster discipline with regards to keeping records.
3. They allow multiple stakeholders access to the data within the supplier organisation.
4. They preserve it for access at a later date providing a consecutive history of all major data.

I'm sure there are others.

You're correct that they are somewhat mis-branded but I think they provide an important role.
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Antoine Fournier 67 Antoine Fournier Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance

Oct 16, 2012
@Roz, I do agree with you about those tools being useful - I'm software engineer since years and implementing management softwares is my job.
I always had to manage high expectations from business people thinking that the software will do the job they do not want to do.

I want here to emphasis that a CRMS does not prevent your customer service people to manage Customer Relationships - the software will never do it as well as these people do. Buying a hammer does not mean you can drive in a nail or build a house. But you cannot build a house without a hammer ...
As you said these SW are in most cases mis-branded, and they DO provide an important role (and I’m sure can find some more points to your list).

For what regards knowledge management, the mis-branding is even more obvious. Getting real knowledge from a human brain to a document on a drive is useless as the final use of it will be another human brain. In addition you’ll miss what I call the “dark knowledge”: the one that will not be managed. This one will need to be shared – then you need to set if free.
Collaboration is the best knowledge DB index ever. When correctly shared, it drives you to the right decision.

This is what XperLink is all about...

But YES, these tools are (and will be more and more) a MUST to a modern organization that wants to be agile … keeping in mind that the most agile tool is human.

Roz Bennetts 16 Roz Bennetts B2B Sales, B2B Sales Professional

Oct 16, 2012
Hi Antoine,

For some reason there was not a facility to comment on your reply to my comment??

However I think we are in total agreement, that these tools are only as useful as the quality of the information - and that has nothing whatsover to do with software.