The trouble with Knowledge Management

December 2, 2010

I attended at KMLF meeting last month and someone shared an interesting observation; i.e. “70% of all KM strategies have failed.” As bad as this figure is, I suspect the overall failure rate may be 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 ppt. 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 presumably we have the right subject matter experts invited an attending, if so, they should be there with intent, and they are in a face-to-face setting where you would imagine the most meaningful communication should be possible.

The majority of people I ask are quite adamant that their meetings are a waste of time. Why then do we allow our meetings to be so unmemorable and unproductive? And more importantly, why don’t we do anything about it? It may be a naive assumption but I reckon a concerted effort to make our meetings genuinely productive would add tremendous value.

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