KM and Murder Mysteries

November 4, 2010

Thinking I’ll make my last guest post on this blog, well, a mysterious one.­čśü

The ABC Murders and the ABC of KM. The idea is to scare you out of your wits. You’re about to discover the hidden links between murders and KM. After all, K might as well stand for Kill and M for Murder. You never thought about it that way, did you?

Seriously speaking, this post is about the links I noticed between some incidents in an Agatha Christie mystery and the concepts of KM. This is a mystery called “The ABC Murders”. It is the story of a ‘mad’ man out to kill random people in random places but based on the logic of alphabets. (Example: Kill a person whose name starts with an A in a place whose name starts with an A and then move on to B…etc). Gory, I admit! I’d like you to know that I really wouldn’t be talking about this if not for the fact that it has something to do with KM.

The ABC Murders is a Hercule Poirot story for those of you who are familiar with Agatha Christie’s novels. The murderer throws Hercule Poirot (the detective) an anonymous challenge and believes that it’s going to be really difficult for the detective to identify him as the murders are random and unrelated. The crux of the story is about how Poirot ties all the random threads together (arising from four murders), finds the commonalities and tracks down the murderer before the latter goes on to kill his next victim.

There is a wonderful link between this detective novel and KM. Some of the statements made by Poirot reflect the fundamentals of KM extremely well (conversations, collective thinking and so forth). Had me wondering about the title – It is an interesting coincidence that the title talks of ‘ABC Murders’ and happens to cover some of the ABCs (basics) of KM…!

Let’s get down to the actual examples now. Poirot brings together the relatives and friends of the victims even though they are all unrelated and in different locations. And in the discussion that ensues, some of the dialogues are just what a KMer (or Knowledge Manager) would love to propagate. It brings to light the fact that the smallest unit of knowledge is a conversation, it reflects on the importance of repeated conversations, it points out the importance of collective thinking and what not! Sample this:

1. Poirot intends to have repeated conversations with the victims’ relatives and friends. His assistant asks him if he suspects that they (the victims’ relatives) have intentionally been keeping back information from them and Poirot says “Not intentionally. But telling everything you know always implies SELECTION. One cannot tell EVERYTHING. Therefore one selects. At the time of the murder people select what they think is important. But quite frequently they are wrong! And to get at the right things, you have to have a conversation…discuss a certain happening over and over again. Extra details are bound to arise….some trivial remark or happening may be a pointer.” (This is an example of where and how knowledge may be hidden…!)

2. In another instance, Poirot, once again, brings together all the relatives and friends of the victims and urges them to talk about what they saw/heard/thought etc as a group. He says “It is necessary to pool reminiscences, to compare notes, to talk the thing over – to talk – to talk – and again to talk. Out of some innocent phrase may come some enlightenment.” (This is a clear indication of the need for collective thinking. More importantly, I think it tells us very clearly that if we are looking for worthwhile knowledge, we better be comfortable with conversations…many of them!)

3. Poirot explains to his assistant that when it comes to the deriving knowledge from people who can help him get to the truth he assumes that they “know something that they do not know they know“. He then explains how collective thinking would be of use to the victims’ friends – “It is like a jig-saw puzzle – each of you may have a piece apparently without meaning, but which when reunited may show a definite portion of the picture as a whole“. (Wow! This philosophy is one of the most fundamental of beliefs when it comes to KM as well…not just in locating murderers. ­čśë


So there! It resonates a lot with the fundamental concepts of KM! Doesn’t it?


I’d like to once again thank CE for the opportunity to guest-blog. I hope I made good use of it and shared some interesting thoughts and information. In case you want to continue to read my other ramblings (on KM and topics outside of it) please visit my blog at and do leave your comments whenever you find the time. Thanks for reading.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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