Ahhh, the club days. It seems like just yesterday that I was screaming for a DJ and sweating alcohol and second hand smoke into some ridiculous get-up. Wait, it was yesterday – house party, then MJQ and my favorite new cocktail: JD and sweet iced tea. Tell me again when I’m supposed to grow the hell up?!?!?! Well, as long as my Wii fit age is less than my real age I’m gonna keep whippin' my hair back and forth!
Anywho, a few months ago, I was researching social movements for inspiration on KM Branding when I came across a typology of social movements based on the work of the late anthropologist, David Aberle. As shown below, Aberle proposed four types of social movements (Alternative, Redemptive, Reformative, and Revolutionary) that revolved around two questions: (1) Who is the movement attempting to change, and (2) How much change is being advocated?
- Alternative social movements seek to facilitate limited change within a limited population. Example: Planned Parenthood, because it’s directed toward people of childbearing age to teach about the consequences of sex.
- Redemptive social movements also operate within a limited population, but seek to bring about a radical change. Example: Some religious sects fit here, especially ones that recruit members to be ‘reborn’.
- Reformative social movements target the entire population while seeking to facilitate only a limited change. Example: Environmental movements, because they encourage everyone to aid in improving the environment.
- Revolutionary social movements seek to (radically) change all of society. Example: The Communist party is one example of a movement seeking to radically alter social institutions.
Why a Cult of KM?
Let’s be honest, building and championing organizational initiatives can be straight up ridiculous! And, it sure as hell doesn’t get any easier when the initiative involves changing not only processes, but behaviors. The questions people ask regarding change initiatives are reminiscent of the terrible-two’s: Why? Why do I have to change? Why should I change? Does everybody have to change? Aren’t we changing every day? What if I don’t want to change? Can I change into whatever I want? Why do you get to tell me what to change? What’s change?
Just to refresh your memory, the objective of KM Branding is to provide education and promote awareness of KM; in effect, responding to (and attempting to mitigate) these questions as well as the bazillion others you’re sure to be confronted with as you go about doing “that KM voodoo that you do so well”. Contrary to the stereotype, in building a cult of KM you’re not trying to create a mindless mass of followers…unless you are. Hopefully, you’re not quite so sketchy and truly focused on building quality relationships and developing a level of KM understanding that enables its institutionalization.
Unlike (the equally radical) Guerrilla KM, which utilizes more of a grassroots, “power to the people” campaign/approach, a Cult of KM focuses on building social equity (or capital) among a limited, targeted group of organizational stakeholders who are in the best position to help promote and champion KM.
Creating a KM Cult(ure)
“It is important to recognize, however, that so long as only one person holds a religious idea, no true religion exists. We conceptualize successful cult innovation as a social process in which innovators both invent new religious ideas and transmit them to other persons in exchange for rewards.” (Bainbridge & Stark, 1979)As practitioners, no matter how great we think KM is, it doesn’t mean diddly if we’re the only ones who recognize that greatness. Furthermore, you can be a fuckin’ “A” fantastic knowledge manager with charisma to spare, but if you’re not actively engaged in proselytizing KM (and asserting yourself as the organizational authority on the subject) success will be fleeting, if at all. I mean, c’mon, if you’re not actively engaging the audience you’re after, how the hell are they supposed to know you’re out there? KM may well be the set of strategies developed and pursued to improve how knowledge is shared and leveraged, but executing these strategies isn’t enough – you need to create a movement that elevates KM from good business to a religious experience. No surprise, however, that cultivating this type of experience is easier said than done.
As organizations adapt to rapidly changing markets with continuous efforts to improve operational efficiency, change fatigue has, increasingly, become a common problem across industries. The result: people don’t "fall" for every new fangled trend or technology comes along…especially when it’s marketed as a panacea. The beauty of KM, however, is that managing knowledge is something organizations are constantly and actively engaged in so you don’t have to sell them on KM as a new, profit-making/money-saving fad; you just have to sell them on your ability to improve how the company is managing its knowledge. To do this, you have to demonstrate amazing (prophet-like) awareness, insight and perceptivity into the issues facing the organization while discreetly solving some of these issues – and publicizing the hell out of the results (of course, focusing less on what you did and more on what you achieved to build a reputation).
At any rate, I’m hopeful that shedding some light on these four building blocks of a cult will be useful in securing the influence and social capital necessary to spread the “gospel of KM” in any organization. (Props to Tobias et al, Banbridge & Stark, and Rick DeLong's Socionics blog for providing some of my research material.)
Four Components of a Cult
- Asserting Authority
- Maintaining Control
Every now and then I feel the need to drop an ugly truth about current KM practices that I hope will enlighten a lot more than it exasperates. With absolutely no disrespect to all of the successful, functioning KM initiatives out there, some of you don’t have so much of a KM culture as a Religion of the Yellow Stick in which people are dragged, kicking and screaming, into KM activity rather than brought over at their level of understanding and in their own good time. Granted, time is a crucial factor and conversion isn’t the most expedient route but the long-term success of KM is in its sustainability beyond any mandate. It’s not how many active participants/users (read: seats filled) you might have on any given day (when brandishing your stick), but an accepted belief in KM that leads to ingrained, normalized (read: ritual) KM behavior (practicing and preaching).
This is important to know because securing the buy-in of organizational stakeholders isn’t like converting some “rice Christian” with the promise of KM’s transformational qualities and the customary “quick win”. Nor is it likely that these stakeholders will be lined up outside your door waiting for you to save them (at least not to start with, muahahahaha). No, chances are you’ll be pulling a Carl Lewis running after folks and trying to nail down time to talk about KM, so, like any good salesperson/cult leader (same difference in this context), you have to make your time count.
Banbridge & Stark define compensators as “satisfying articles of faith, postulations that strongly desired rewards will be obtained in the distant future or in some other unverifiable context”. In KM-speak that means having a strong KM value proposition; and by strong I mean tricked out like a Transformer! KM professionals should, at a minimum, already be involved in conducting SWOT analyses, market research, and understanding the history of change initiatives (both failed and successful), the organizational culture, and the general attitude towards change. But, the key to developing the most beguiling and irresistible compensators is in thoroughly understanding the personal and professional needs of your stakeholders. What motivates them – money, power/influence, respect…genuine altruism? Only by understanding their motivations can you exploit them!
I know, I know, I sound like one shady bee-yotch right now, but step outside of my seemingly sinister scenario for a moment into the cold, harsh light of day (and your marks’ shoes) and ask yourself: Aside from a top-down mandate to do so (and people still find ways of ignoring those – you know exactly what I’m talking about) why should any of these people give a rat’s ass about you and your KM initiative? What do they really get out of drinking the kool-aid or swallowing “the little red pill”?
Sidenote: For your sake, I hope that you won’t make the mistake of assuming that just because it’s someone’s job to do something that this argument alone will be sufficient to sway them. And, unless you’re dealing with a hardcore altruist, don’t bank on “the benefit to all” argument. Lastly, please, please, "Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin' there in his ghost manger, just lookin' at his Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin' 'bout shapes and colors" don’t try to persuade anyone with the idea that it will make them look good or impress higher ups (even if it will) unless you are absolutely, positively sure that this is their Achilles heel.
That said, if the only answer you can come up with (to my pre-sidenote-rant question) is some tired, re-hashed diatribe on the bennies of KM (blah, blah, blah) then not only should you expect to be blown off (hopefully in a Miss Manners approved fashion), you kinda deserve it. In business, as in life, people prioritize relationships and activities according to what matters most to them (not you). Compensators should be relevant to the mark! You have to find each of their Achilles heel – vanity, ambition, social conscience – and play it (with every ounce of class you possess) to the hilt. Roping the mark is not so much about selling KM as it is about selling yourself as a solutions provider, the answer to their unspoken prayers; you’re “roping” them into a relationship with you in which you are regarded with great respect, thoughtfulness, and consideration.
You want their confidence.
I’m sure that some people may not see the point in separating their KM and “solutions provider” pitches but keep in mind that you’re building a “following” by developing relationships, not by selling a service or product – even your compensators are simply a hook! Every half decent sales professional knows that the highest quality and most enduring buyer-seller relationships are built on trust that has been carefully cultivated – not just having the best price point at the moment. While some of your stakeholders might be characterized (or even self-describe) as having little time for “small talk” or sales pitches with requests that folks simply "cut to the chase", your success as a KM cult leader is dependent upon setting the pace.
The Royal Road: Socializing KM
“…I guess Professor Zueblin is right when he says that thinking is the hardest work many people ever have to do, and they don't like to do any more of it than they can help. They look for a royal road through some short cut in the form of a clever scheme or stunt, which they call the obvious thing to do; but calling it doesn't make it so.” (Excerpted from Obvious Adams, p50)The classic idea of a cult is that it’s a con, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, pull back the curtain and the all-powerful Oz is a powerless fraud (read: no skills, experience, and/or abilities) who was swept away in a hot air balloon (read: momentum of a, potentially great, idea). So, one might reasonably ask, “If you’ve got the goods and can deliver on your promises, then why all the hoopla, why the need for the con-like approach?” Basically? Because people like to be schmoozed, they want to be seduced…they want to believe that there is a “there” out there! As the timeless tale of Obvious Adams illustrates, some folks have a difficult time acknowledging and accepting the perfect simplicity in a strategy or idea; a fact that leaves many susceptible to idiots and con-men (go you!!). So, it advances the cause (well, your cause, at any rate) to craft a mythology around KM, wrapping the KM vision and strategy within a grand illusion that sets stakeholders off on a great adventure down a royal road to the solution they’re seeking.
Before you “poo poo” the idea, consider that any idiot can offer a solution – what makes yours stand-out, what gives it substance and merit, makes it worth listening to? The ability to deliver solutions with an appropriate and convincing display of showmanship is an art that distinguishes “good” from "great". Mythologies, like fairy-tales, are an enduring, time tested medium for imparting knowledge, wisdom and values. And, unlike, many traditional business communiqués, they travel well across an organization (nothing travels better than gossip, conjecture, and enigmatic tales). In addition to the fun, excitement and entertainment value inherent in this approach (fun is not anathema to business no matter what you learned in B-school), a well-crafted mythology can be an effective tool for piquing interest in and sparking discussion about KM, socializing the KM vision and desired values of knowledge sharing, and promoting KM’s various services and benefits.
"It [the fairy tale] addresses itself to the child’s sense of courage and adventure. The tale advises the child: Take your courage in hand and go out to meet the world head on. According to Bruno Bettelheim, the fairy tale offers this promise: If you have courage and if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle, conquer any foe.Perhaps one of the most pervasively frustrating issues hounding knowledge management professionals – regardless of experience or organizational type – revolves around making KM work. Often, the answer lies, simply, in making KM real – an actual organizational challenge requiring an actual strategic solution. I mean, hey, if you can’t sell KM, then how do you expect to sell a KM solution? And, continuing my trend of advising on what not to assume, don’t assume that just because a KM need has been identified (as evidenced by the job posting that lead to you getting hired) that there is universal agreement on what KM is or the best approach to managing KM-related issues. Even in the (shocking, amazing) event that such consensus exists, there will, likely, still be a need to socialize KM that will facilitate building the foundation for your emergence as the KM cult leader (a.k.a solutions provider). After all, unlike charlatans of old who relied upon deception and ambiguity, the solution you are offering truly exists! The mythology you create not only illuminates, placing a spotlight on organizational needs with a colorful, inventive lamp, it also demonstrates a profound awareness and understanding of these needs and spreads the message (the “good word”) that there is an enlightened and achievable way of meeting these needs.
"By recognizing a child’s daily fears, appealing to his courage and confidence, and by offering hope, the fairy tale presents the child with a means by which he can understand the world and himself. And those who would deodorize the tales impose a fearsome lie upon the child. J.R.R. Tolkien cautioned, “It does not pay to leave a dragon out of your calculations if you live near him." (The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease)
See there, you’re not some ratchet con-man – you’re offering an explanation for phenomena beyond folks comprehension, a sense of security in the face of uncertainty, and most of all, you’re offering hope …hope that there is a reason, that there is a way, that there are answers to all of the unanswered questions and unmet needs. Really, your organization is so lucky to have you.
And it’s important you make sure they know it.
Parting the Sea: Asserting Your Guru-ness
“In life one has to face a huge assortment,Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of proselytization, particularly when it comes to spiritual matters. I’ve always felt that God, who set the stars in the Heavens and created the Earth and the Sea and all life on this planet probably doesn’t need PR (especially when you consider some of the people speaking on His/Her behalf). Color me crazy, but I’m thinking the work speaks for itself, y’know? But hey…that’s my take.
Of nauseating fads and good advice,
There's health and fitness, diet and deportment,
And other pointless forms of sacrifice,
Conversation? Wit? I am a doubter,
Manners? Charm? They're no way to impress,
So forget the inner me, observe the outer,
I am what I wear and how I dress"
(Excerpted from My Strongest Suit, Aida)
Wannabe cult leaders on the other hand, could definitely benefit! Shameless self-promotion may be gauche but what’s the use of spreading “the good word” of KM if folks don’t know that there’s a bonafide KM guru in their midst? You’ve gained their trust, you’ve spread the gospel, now it’s time to reap the harvest.
When you compare the roles typically ascribed to a guru (teacher, leader, motivator, counselor) against the ones a Knowledge Manager must play (all of the above PLUS evangelist, confidant, problem solver, hand-holder, networker, make-shit-happen-er) the gap between guru and Knowledge Manager is virtually non-existent…that is, if you have the cojones to take the leap! For those of you that do, a few pointers..."
- Pursue stealth relationships.
In their book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds authors Tobias, Lalich, and Langone describe cult leaders as having "an outstanding ability to charm and win over followers. They beguile and seduce. They enter a room and garner all the attention. They command the utmost respect and obedience." Acquiring the initial trust of your mark is only the first step in building long-term relationships that deepen your rapport, strengthen your influence, and enable you to discreetly identify and discover critical needs (and by that, I mean plural – go hard or go home!) so that you can manifest solutions seemingly out of thin air. The key is in identifying multiple needs that you address at your discretion (not theirs) which reinforces the notion that you are indeed the Wizard of KM and not a one hit wonder.
- Be a problem solver, not a problem explainer.
Although I’m fond of being “Mr. Full Disclosure” and a firm believer in transparency, the culty-guru in me recognizes that my effectiveness isn’t tied to these goody-goody character traits. Both you and your audience (but mostly you) want to feel like you are a miracle worker, so cut to the chase. Problem solve with minimal to no explanation of how. For solutions with long-term benefits, avoid speaking too much about them up front so that you can mine them for future wins. Take metrics, for example, unless it’s a key part of the solution being provided, don’t disclose that you’re tracking them until you generate your first report. Besides, too much time spent on talking about a problem (or its solution) is just going to give folks a headache anyway.
- Keep it cool and zen-like.
While there are moments when showing a chink in the armor (never more than two) can be beneficial to growing your legend, the ability to project awe-inspiring confidence and intrepidness along with an uncanny sense of control are important assets for a culty-guru. Fueling the flame of (belief in) your enlightenment requires anticipating and planning for future needs and challenges in order to remain two steps ahead of your stakeholders while giving the appearance of either being nonchalant or excited (whichever feels right) about these developments. Keep in mind that when your stakeholders are stressed out, it’s business as usual; when you’re stressed out, there’s a problem. Also, god-like confidence: sexy as hell!
- Think before you act and act before you speak!
Deliver on the promise of something great and transformative by speaking more with your actions and less with your words. And, when you do speak (for example, in a meeting where solutions are being solicited), speak plainly, directly (matter of fact), and succinctly, declaring your solution as if it were the most natural and obvious thing in the world. Mind Control 101 author JK Ellis offers the following advice: “Be accessible as a person but present your knowledge and wisdom as being rare, expensive, mysterious, and only for those who are truly ready for it. This compromise allows you to build deep personal bonds with people yet have them want more of your presence."
- Manage your accessibility.
Given your target audience, you should fully expect potential followers to be high on need and low on time (for anyone or anything they don’t consider a priority), ensuring that you – capable, ambitious, self-directed minx that you are – are always in demand. But do not, I repeat, do not, make yourself available to be anyone’s problem-solving bitch! Building a cult of KM isn’t just about branding KM you’re also branding yourself! Remember that not only are you an expert but you’re the expert providing critical solutions, so, at a minimum, be only as available as your adherents. Why is this important? Because if your target audience fails to fully appreciate your time and talent then the social equity you’ve been questing after (“my precious”) ain’t gonna happen. Social equity isn’t conferred just because you made shit happen, it’s given because your expertise is valued, respected, and greatly desired. Plus, being available at the drop of a dime gives the impression that you’re a genie in a bottle.
- Build (and maintain) the mystery.
Downplay the amount of work involved in making KM happen. Create the illusion that executing KM is a magical process, regardless of the actual work involved. You want stakeholders to believe that you have a gift for making KM work beyond anything that they could do themselves. Hold fast to this knowledge – your job is to improve sharing of organizational information, not your trade secrets. And when you do share, don’t give it out like candy.
- Herd the sheep, reinforce the message.
When creating a movement of this magnitude it’s easy to get lost in the sea of glory, power, and public exaltation that is sure to mark your ascension however, in addition to the many feats of awesomeness you will, no doubt, perform, it’s important to regularly set aside time to “light the way” for your flock. Being a leader (and physical manifestation of KM) means being a mentor…a shepherd. You must accept your responsibility for providing guidance and wisdom. By creating and seizing learning opportunities – the teachable moment – to improve their understanding and awareness of KM and good knowledge sharing principles not only are you actively involved in shaping their concept of KM, you are asserting yourself as the authority on all things KM.
The Wizard of Oz is an excellent example of how effective good mythology and creative theatre can be used to advance an agenda. This dude, literally, blew into a cult leader’s dream – an entire town eagerly willing to offer up their hopes, submit to delusions, and confer power upon some jamoke in a hot air balloon. He didn’t even have to create his own mythology just perpetuate the one they built for him! Sadly, his masterful, though deceitful, use of theatre was less about consolidating power (‘cause he really didn’t have any) and more about not getting busted and, possibly, killed by a wicked witch. In the end, his duplicity was uncovered by a dog.
A dog. Damn.
Despite the potential sketchy-ness of the tactics I espouse in building a KM Cult, I still believe it can be achieved without sacrificing the values of sustainability, empowerment, and community development that epitomize my KM vision (“reaaally I do, reaaally”). Having a hustle doesn’t mean that you can’t be sincere and on the up-and-up (or mean that you’re the anti-Knowledge Manager). Neither does having good intentions mean that you have to be Mother Teresa. In fact, after all the work you’ve put into cultivating your little movement, you’re going to need a dab of “slick Rick” and a bit of theatre to ensure its continued success by keeping your flock on the straight and narrow and fending off dime store demagogues! The triple threat you’ll definitely want to stay on top of:
- Time constraints that interfere with stakeholder participation/indoctrination
- Stakeholder skepticism
- Stakeholder belief that their regular input is unnecessary or irrelevant
As defined by Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, thought reform (a.k.a. "brainwashing"; I prefer “behavior modification” for our purposes) is the “systematic and incremental application of psychological and social influence techniques to produce specific attitudinal and behavioral changes.” These changes are meant to occur without being immediately noticeable to the mark but I have a hard time seeing some of the more traditional techniques making any sort of a splash in a corporate environment. Come on, ritual dieting and fasting: Food is what gets most people through the workday so unless you plan on slipping something into their Lean Cuisine you’re not likely to change their diet or cause them to quit eating full-stop. And, while you might get some attention for going on a food strike I guarantee it won’t be the kind you’re after. Then there’s group pressure and “love bombing”: You don’t have to force singing, hugging, touching, and flattery on anyone – this stuff happens easily enough under the influence of alcohol at Happy Hours and raucous holiday parties all the time! Unless your strategy is to blackmail anyone stupid enough to get caught on film, you might wanna take a pass. My favorite has to be isolation and separation: are you kidding me, most folks pray for the opportunity to be isolated and separated from colleagues and co-workers.
Luckily, I’ve outlined a list of more useful tactics for altering stakeholders’ perception of KM.
- Meditation, Affirmations, and Admonitions…Oh My! Objective: KM Consciousness-raising Rationale: These practices encourage stakeholders to continuously think about their issues from a KM perspective. As a culty-guru, you want to foster the habit of adherents soliciting your advice/feedback and asking themselves “How can KM help (HCKMH)?” each time a challenge arises. In the beginning you may have to wean them by selectively and proactively addressing needs (that you’ve identified) while impressing upon them the criticality of taking the first steps to contact KM ("KM helps those who contact KM"). Consider a framed desktop admonition: "Breathe in. Breathe out. Call KM." Also, consider routinely tweeting affirmations! Another weaning technique: as you become aware of challenges facing stakeholders send out brief, unsolicited emails offering sage (yet vague) advice with a reminder of your availability to help (hold on to full solutions until you score a face-to-face). Introducing yoga into your KM workshops is a creative way of encouraging stakeholders to take valuable “me time” while teaching them how to channel their energy into being more focused, deliberate, and productive in their roles. And “Kaaaaay Emmmmm” makes an amazing chant!
- Sharing in Community Objective: Symbolic self-surrender Rationale: Lead KM workshops in which stakeholders “confess” their thoughts and feelings about KM (i.e., concerns, level of understanding), sharing knowledge (i.e., impact on personal power, status), workplace issues, etc. This is a clever method of empowering stakeholders (in ways that support your agenda) by addressing and allaying fears, increasing rapport, and uncovering new opportunities. This is also a fantastic opportunity to redistribute power! As the facilitator, the person responsible for absolving stakeholders of their "sins" and guiding them towards enlightenment, your role as shepherd and guru becomes increasingly evident.
- Stigmatize Wrong Behavior Objective: Reinforce standards Rationale: As a rule, I don’t agree with the practice of rewarding employees for demonstrating good knowledge sharing…'cause it’s kinda your job and you shouldn’t be rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway. On the other hand, vilifying bad or poor knowledge sharing helps to set and reinforce standards. Obviously, you can’t go around tacking scarlet letters on people (though if you could I wonder what letter(s) would be used…suggestions?), but creating marketing campaigns in response to unacceptable behaviors – especially campaigns that target the perpetrators (without naming names) – carry a special stigma all their own.
- Build Attention Traps Objective: Make KM the center of the universe Rationale: Though the concept is decades old, attention economics has become my new mini-obsession, especially since we seem to be living at the height of the Attention Economy! In every aspect of our lives, we are barraged by an insane variety of social, political, economic, and technological forces vying for our attention. Moreover, we are actively exchanging our attention for currency. Attention traps are designed to create a "centripetal gaze" that, essentially, sucks people in. Once you’ve "cracked the stakeholder code" and succeeded in securing a measure of trust bombard them with provocative and alluring attention traps designed to place KM, squarely, at the center of their universe (“KM is all!”) and enhance their commitment to active knowledge stewardship.
- The Tao of KM Objective: Establish a "higher purpose" among stakeholders Rationale: A common cult teaching is that members of the group share a higher, divine purpose to which their communion and activities are ascribed. Given the radical change your KM cult is attempting to make within such a limited population, this concept is practically tailor made. Indeed, targeted your stakeholders because they’re special – they possess the social capital you need to acquire in order to do bigger, better things with KM across the larger organization. So, advising them that they have a higher purpose (let’s say, to transform the company) isn’t necessarily a lie or a bad thing because they do. Attributing problems experienced by those outside of the group (perhaps in another department, division, or company) as the consequence of being on the "wrong path" is wading into slightly murkier waters. However you choose to spin this “higher purpose” it should appeal to your stakeholders self-interest and entwine their needs/wants with the organizational mission to promote congruence between their personal agendas and beneficial to the organization’s bottom line.