May 18, 2007

Building A Better Knowledge Manager: Love Is A Battlefield

"We are young, heartache to heartache we stand, no promises, no demands
Love is a battlefield
We are strong, no one can tell us were wrong, searchin' our hearts for so long, both of us knowing
Love is a battlefield"

I've spent the months since my last post trying to solve the riddle of how to regain my passion for KM and deciding whether or not I even want to continue in the field and all I can say is that it sucks to give up something you enjoy especially when you're good at it (and invested four-and-a-half years of college and five years of sweat). Sometimes the only thing you can do about a situation is to learn from it so then, I guess the only real option I'm left with is to pick my bruised ego and wounded pride up off the floor and resume my KM journey.

Since it turns out that Forrest was right and life is eerily like a box of chocolates, I'm not quite sure if I'll make it to the KM Valhalla I envisioned when I was a college sophomore starting down this path, but WTF, too much certainty is bad for the soul, right?

At any rate, as I'm now committed to developing myself into a better Knowledge Manager, I've determined that the first step is ditching the spirit of fear and frustration I've acquired and reclaiming the spirit of adventure that attracted me to KM in the first place. An excellent source of inspiration in this endeavor is an amazing article on making design work written by the Univerity of Toronto's B- School Dean, Roger Martin, for my business bible, Fast Company. In my opinion, this article should be de rigueur reading for every KM professional.

In providing his keys to making design work, Martin provides a description of design that illuminates the field of knowledge management.

"Corporate types, by and large, seek to fuel growth by building from bulletproof, reproducible systems; designers generally attempt to do so by imagining something new, different, better. That difference can be seen as a trust in reliability on the one hand and in validity on the other.

"A reliable process--which tends to attract folks in finance, engineering, and operations--produces a predictable result time and again. This is business as algorithm: quantifiable, measurable, and provable. It hews to that old management adage, "What doesn't get measured doesn't get done.

"A valid process, on the other hand, flows from designers' deep understanding of both user and context, and leads them to ideas they believe in but can't prove. They work in a world of variables: the unpredictable, the visual, the experimental. Great designers worry less about replicating a successful process than about producing a spectacular solution…Valid thinking demands an inspired leap of faith. Before John Mackey launched one of the country's first supermarket-style natural-food stores, for example, nobody could prove that Whole Foods Market would succeed at all, let alone become the most profitable food retailer (in terms of profit per square foot) in the United States. But Mackey did it anyway.

"As the computer scientist Alan Kay put it so memorably, 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.'"

KM is a field in which a lot of new ground is being explored in understanding, identifying, managing, capturing, and leveraging information, knowledge, and the organizational relationships that generate and share information and knowledge. Like design, the best strategic KM solutions utilize a valid process – one that is developed in response to an individual organization's needs. And, like design, this approach comes under steady fire from traditional business leaders who seek a reliable process that is predictable, quantifiable and replicable.

In the article, Martin goes on to discuss how utilizing both approaches leads to business gold, and obviously, that's the goal, but for most organizations that synthesis must wait until a sustainable KM effort is in place.

The key for KM strategists? Education, education, education. It doesn't help many of us that there is so much information and misinformation about knowledge management floating around cyberspace, readily available to folks in need of a solution. Even when you attempt to set realistic expectations about developing and implementing KM solutions, it's hard to get past misleading service providers who claim their OTS (off-the-shelf) application is a one-stop solution in a box for all/most KM needs or that hard-headed executive who reads one article on the potential benefits of KM, but who fails to consider the depth and detail of the work involved in bringing those benefits to fruition. And for the KM's themselves (speaking from recent experience), the pressure to conform to a way of doing business that, while being familiar to the "traditional" exec, limits the success and challenges the integrity of a successful KM strategy, is stifling.

Love is a battlefield and so is KM. Let's do what we can take to stay the course.