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KM Forum event blog: Mike Zack on strategy and KM

October 1, 2007

Mike put together one of the best readers on KM and strategy some years ago partly sponsored by the IKM. I’m looking forward to his updated thinking. He is referencing the received wisdom of the early days of KM that managing KM would improve strategy and arguing that all his work later shows that this has not happened. A recent exercise (survey technique) showed that there is no correlation between KM and financial performance, but they did find a relationship between KM practices and better performance of strategy, which in turn imp[acts on financial performance. In order to make it happen (he argues) you have to find very specific leverage points. This is emergent wisdom: I think this means he thinks it is the right thing starts with the strategy

OK with have an Iceberg on the screen now, the surface visibility is products and services, knowledge is the stuff under the water. Arguing from product/marketing positions to knowledge positions in which I compete on what I know. Nice phrase, how about first learner advantage not first mover advantage. I like that. He has done some post IKM work with Buckman Labs (Bob is one of the true greats of KM) where Bob argues (and has proved in practice) that if you have knowledge and learning superiority you can maintain competitive.

We are now getting into the What you should do part of this presentation. Basic proposation: Knowledge strategy is not KM but creates a strategic argument for KM. This means looking at three things: what we must know, what we know and what our competitors know. From this we look to the internal and external strategic knowledge gaps and how are these aligned with out knowledge and learning management initiatives. OK this is all good stuff, a bit motherhood and apple pie but no bad thing, sometimes people (especially KM people) get swept up in enthusiasm for the subject and forget it has to have a purpose.

Interesting two by two (but it flashed by too quickly to record) about different types of KM work showing that most KM is not strategic, but functional. I buy that its been one of the problems and its getting worse with the strong IT links.

Another great Motherhood and apple pie statement: if you want to innovate you have to know some different things. I would add or know what you know in different ways, but this is critical. Another great idea, differentiate your markets based on what you can learn from them, not what you can earn from them. If you can learn faster than the competitors then you own that market.

Now some real meat. If you outsource, then the less you know and the more you rely on the outsourcing companies, who are doing the learning for you and may not be aware of that learning or may want to charge you for it. Fully agree with that, outsourcing has gone too far, too focused on commoditisation of knowledge. I always argued that one of the worst phrases you can hear is strategic focus; it damages diversity in practice, as it is always taken to excess. Basic argument here is to argue that learning and KM are strategic and you may be listened too.

Concluding know with some recent research on Does knowledge make a competitive difference. Doing field research (sic) in the wheat industry (groans all round). Good research subject as everything (including who you sell to) is in common, the only difference is knowledge. Will be interested to see what comes out of this.

We are now into questions – key from Joe on the short termism which leads to outsourcing as a fast fix on cash flow and a route to the Executive Villa (I like that). This is one of the big issues in the US and UK (as well as elsewhere) the short termism. You go to Singapore you will see multi-year investments …

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