The trouble with Knowledge Management

I attended at KMLF meeting last month and someone shared an interesting observation; i.e. “70% of all KM strategies have failed.” As bad a figure as this is, I suspect the overall failure rate is actually closer to the 90 percentile given the degree to which we rationalise our efforts in hindsight, selectively tout good aspects and neglect to encompass the whole longer-term picture..

I’ve heard many a strategy spruiked as a major success by practitioners, but conversations with the troops on the ground often tell a very different story. (I too, have been complicit in this type of behaviour in the past … guilty as charged your honour!)

Having worked (or at least been employed) in the “knowledge management” field for 10 years now, I’ve seen many a noble endeavour designed to get meaningful knowledge-transfer happening.  I can’t help but think however, one of the key areas in the transfer of knowledge has been largely ignored throughout the journey.

Anyway, the point I’m laboriously moving toward is,  that maybe it is radically different thinking that is needed to achieve the kind of successes that we envisage and are so fond of making Powerpoint presentations about. My humble contribution to this is, I concede, a rather simple thought and one therefore that has perhaps been overlooked for this very reason.

We spend millions on IT systems to capture, store and disseminate ‘stuff’. We endlessly attempt to codify “what we know” into different forms of media for those who might benefit from it, so they can completely ignore it. We set up communities of practice to connect the unconnected and link our structural silos. We endlessly promote the virtues of Web 2.0 and social media as the panacea of all our knowledge ills. We do all sorts of things in the name of KM it seems – except tackle potentially the most productive and lowest hanging of all our fruits …. our meetings.

In terms of knowledge-transfer and decision-making our meetings are potentially our most potent method because we:

  • have the right subject matter experts invited and in attendance,
  • if they are in attendance, they should be there with intent, and
  • they are in a face-to-face setting where the most meaningful communication should be possible.

Why then are our meetings so unmemorable and unproductive? And more importantly, why don’t we do anything about it?

There are a number of methods doing the rounds that focus on improving meeting processes and many of these work quite well but the real key to effective meetings is addressing the thinking that takes place within those processes. Now, this is one area where I can, with hand on cold heart, claim to have a good degree of success using the parallel thinking methods of de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats.”

Not all meetings require such facilitation, I suspect a great deal could be run simply and efficiently if the participants could simply develop some tolerance and empathy for opinions that differ from their own. However I routinely use parallel thinking when:

  • there are strongly held views
  • there are challenging issues at hand
  • there are diverse perspectives on offer
  • the conversation is rambling and unfocused, and
  • when time is short

Contrary to popular belief there is rarely any reference made to hats or colours in a meeting and I find that skeptics who like to dwell on this aspect are those who do not understand the methodology and are unwilling to learn it. Unfortunately, when this is raised I do myself no favours by didactically explaining that “one needs to be sufficiently adult enough to understanding why such “seemingly” childish concepts are used.” (Simply put, the hats and colours create ‘mental hooks’ for the language and methods to embed and exist in the mind.)

Anyway I digress, what I really should be making reference to are the substantial quantifiable outcomes I can direct their attention to, that we have managed to save in such meetings that the usual meeting modus operandis have failed to deliver, particularly when we have incorporated some lateral thinking techniques to gain some traction on some of the more difficult issues.

Now that’s my primary way of dealing with the difficult issue of meetings and there are other efficient ways of doing so as well – I’m just wondering why they are not absolutely mandated and being put into use?

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.

Comments (6)

  1. Bruce Watson :

    I believe that one of the greatest problems with many KM theories and techniques is the lack of understanding of what “knowledge” is. It is far more than data that can be placed in a computer. It is far more than can be put into words. How is a sporting skill or surgical skill, for example, to be put into words? – with great diffuculty. Or more simply, what about the skill of riding a bike, driving a car, hitting a hole in one? Tacit knowledge would be very difficult to put into words and yet decision makers use tacit knowledge all of the time – not in a mechanistic computer logic way but by combining, virtually simultaneously, tacit and sentential knowledge. I don’t really want a surgeon looking at the textbook words while he is doing the operation!

  2. Frank Connolly :

    Unless of course he’s operating on the spine!

  3. John Cougar :

    Bruce, I was thinking the exact same thing.

    Now that takes me back to design studies, but I forget… was it: “The only bad idea is one you didn’t have” or “There is no such thing as a bad idea”? At least I recall Rule #1 of brainstorming: “WRITE IT DOWN!”.

  4. KerrieAnne Christian :

    I attended a Standards Australia committee meeting recently which aligned with :
    – there are strongly held views
    – there are challenging issues at hand
    – there are diverse perspectives on offer
    – the conversation is rambling and unfocused, and
    – when time is short

    there were 2 participants who in particular who were derailing progress & both had good knowledge which was important

    this impasse had been the situation for at least 2 years previously, but somehow consensus was finally reached in the Nov 2010 meeting without external facilitation – but only after incredibly heated debate – at least the 2 concerned were attending by teleconference & were on opposite sides of the Australian continent

  5. Frank Connolly :

    Hi Kerrie,
    Unfortunately those who tend to do the most de-railing are those who in fact have great knowledge and are quite intelligent. Their intelligence means they have the ability to effectively support their own viewpoint. If I was able to choose meeting participants I’d always choose people who think well irrespective of IQ.

  6. Frank Connolly :

    … and John, very pleased to see you in here.

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