July 28, 2006

So What Does A Knowledge Manager Look Like, Exactly?

It's pushing up on 2am in Atlanta and I've got the Rafael Lelis Club Mix of Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man" blaring so I can stay focused, write this post quickly and catch some Zzz's before berry pickin' down at Adam's Farm in Fayetteville in a few hours.

Though I've been something of a flogger this week, I have been keeping notes on topics I want to write about. I also decided that at least once a month, going forward, I'd like to start posting some ideas of how KM can be leveraged in various industries and companies. I was in Nashville's equivalent of Discover Mills last weekend and passing Old Navy reminded me of how stale the men's fashion industry is and being both a knowledge manager and fashionista I thought, "How can KM benefit Old Navy and the men's fashion industry as a whole?" (Who hasn't asked this question?!?!?!)

I'm always hearing folks question what the future of KM is and I think that in order for the field to grow there needs to be more practical application of KM concepts and processes; proactive vs reactive KM.

So, while I'm showing my age and cultural influences, I was watching Making the Band 3 last week and thinking about how much image is touted in the music industry and wondering how important image is within the field of KM and how often it (and salesmanship) override substance and what effect this has on the validity of (and respect for) KM.

On Tuesday I had my last meeting with the division head of one of the companies I've been interviewing with. I think it was a largely ceremonial interview, particularly since he really didn't have a clue about what KM was or even what he thought KM could/might be able to do for his division (that, and he nodded off a few times - soooo sketchy), but anyway, reading between the lines of some of his comments, it seemed to me that he was sort of doubting or disqualifying my ability to do the job because of my age and limited experience (4 yrs).

I got the impression that his expectation of a knowledge manager is someone much older than me with 10-20 years experience (no less than 5 years at any one company and not necessarily in KM), a PhD (in God only knows what), certifications from various organizations, and probably a few scholarly articles and/or books to their credit. (Mind you, this is not the job description). At any rate, he seemed quite dismissive which offended me since it completely ignored my education and experience (and complete overqualification for the position as described) and also because my presentation ROCKED and impressed the other 18 people I had met within the division.

Anyway, it had me thinking about a few things. Please keep in mind it's early in the AM and some of these might not make sense:

(1) The image of KM and how many folks (professional and otherwise) paint a pretty picture vs selling a solid strategy. And by "paint a pretty picture" I mean anything from trying to sell a concept of KM that caters more to an organizations ignorance about KM (as opposed to creating/setting realistic expecations which aren't always "pretty") to selling technology tools/applications as a definitive KM solution (totally ignoring the whole "culture/community development aspect of KM").

On the flip side - thinking about organizations that have pre-defined what they want KM to be - do you walk away when an organization is asking you to implement something that isn't necessarily KM or doesn't truly reflect the KM needs of the organization?

I wonder, if I took more of a sales and less of a consultative approach would I have been better received?

(2) Was is it really age-discrimination? I haven't been offered or denied the opportunity so this is not a legal question in the least, I'm thinking more about the fact that while KM is a really forward-thinking, visionary field there isn't any regulation or structure and it still has not hit the mainstream. If I were in Marketing, I might be seen as a young gun with exciting new ideas. If I were a physician or professor I would be considered completely green, no matter how brilliant or accomplished (respect comes with time and tenure in these professions), but in a field without any real structure or career path - with professionals that are both like me and those who actually fit the description above, isn't it easy to be dismissive of someone in my shoes as being more ambitious than experienced - regardless of what is in my resume or how flawless I present my strategy and recommendations?

Much like in Sales and Marketing I feel that to be successful in this field you have to be an innovator, entrepreneurial, you have to be on the edge, with an eye for new opportunities to grow the field and grow within the field. I'm not saying I'm more qualified than the next person (depending on who they are) but I certainly feel my age and focused experience within KM (in very different organzations) enhances my value as a candidate.

3) Touching on that last point, one of the concerns voiced was my length of tenure at each of the previous companies I've worked. I'm not even going to get into the generational comparisons of how long people stay at any one job these days versus the mid-20th century, but in KM aren't there advantages to experiencing the challenges and opportunities presented by various organizations? I'm not saying job-hop for the sake of job-hopping, but how can you grow in the field if you've only experienced KM in one setting, industry, culture, country? And, isn't that what career development is all about - chasing increasingly challenging and fulfilling opportunities and experience?

I'll let y'all know if I get offered the job ;-)