Monday, March 29, 2010

Types of KM Strategies

An idea jumps up all of a sudden from nowhere in particular on a quiet Saturday afternoon while yours truly is lazing around with what is normally described as a completely blank mind. I am not sure if this topic has already been considered by other KMers. I’d think someone must have written about this or at least thought about this before. However, as I am yet to come across such a write-up, I decided to go ahead and put it out, as it appears in my mind, to be examined by you, fellow KMers. 

Here goes then. It suddenly occurred to me that we have reached a state of affairs in the KM domain wherein we are well poised to turn around and look at the overall pattern(s) in our KM strategies. So, why not attempt to look at the different types of KM strategies that have been adopted by organizations with each type of strategy reflecting a dominant philosophy or concept? This may reveal why we adopted some of these strategies, what’s good or bad about them and where we might go from here. I am quite sure some of my assumptions are debatable, so please do not hesitate to leave your comments and inputs. 

The following are, I believe, the key types of KM strategies (in no particular order) that organizations seem to have adopted based on a number of factors like the business they are in, the organization's age, the beliefs, experience, knowledge and influence of the team or person at the helm of KM and the organizational culture and characteristics among other things.  

1. Integrate Everything: This is a strategy that pursues and focuses on the integration of content, irrespective of its source, flavor and purpose.  The integration may range from efforts to just put everything in one place in a meaningful structure to efforts to scratch beneath the surface and connect/integrate knowledge pieces at an elementary level. In some cases, where the KM initiative began early enough, it may be easy to attempt to plan exhaustively and restrict the creation of content to just one or perhaps a few appropriate platforms. This strategy may typically be followed by small organizations or large organizations that are particular about centralized operations and control. Such organizations are also likely to be very conscious of metrics like time saved in searching for content. Think portals, intranets and single source knowledge platforms (with widgets and mash-ups from other sources). Such strategies may not differentiate between documents, workflow, people profiles etc and may place an equal value on all these elements. Think small organizations or large ones with powerful KM teams. Dictator?

2. Connect Everyone:  Some organizations and KM teams would rather wash their hands off (as much as logically possible) the complexities & uncertainties of storing and updating content in repositories and exhaustive portals. Hard core business platforms that capture information/knowledge related to business processes cannot be avoided though. Basic portals and repositories are likely to continue to exist and be used. This strategy is not necessarily an attempt to only reduce the complexities of capturing and storing content but an inherent belief in the concept of knowledge being fluid and the value of it being highly dependent on the context. It also stems from the belief that all worthwhile knowledge lies in people’s heads and will make meaning (and can be elicited) only on a need basis. Consequently, such KM strategies would rather focus on people, their specific roles, situations, needs and connections. Efforts are made to do everything (culturally, procedurally and technically) to let people find relevant others and then find content from there on (or have conversations/collaborate) without too much intervention. Such strategies may emphasize on expertise location, formation of communities, encouragement and facilitation of informal networks, best practices sharing between specific teams, internal conferences and the like. Think relationship based organizations which focus less on processes. Broker?

3. Personalize Knowledge:  This strategy is perhaps the equivalent of a much milder version of the Ayn Rand philosophy in the KM domain. Organizations that adopt this type of a strategy may believe that nothing will be adopted as long as it is not presented in a personalized manner and format/structure (providing a self-centered view). The focus is unlikely to be on ushering in a general knowledge sharing and collaboration culture. Instead, it is highly likely to lure employees to be a natural part of their KM strategy and system by giving them something that they are unlikely to refuse, something packed and personal. The focus is on a personalized knowledge strategy that encourages employees to focus on only knowledge that is relevant to them. Subsequently, employees are encouraged to connect only with colleagues that matter to them etc. Everything points in the direction of benefits for the self and this may contribute to the initiative not being perceived as a ‘business’ initiative. However, implementing such a system may be difficult as it might call for in-house designs and techniques for smart knowledge filtering and personalization. Also, the technical effectiveness of such a system may be questionable if the underlying thinking is not strong enough. This strategy is slightly similar to the ‘Connect Everyone’ strategy since this is also people focused, but it has to go beyond connections and examine cutting-edge technology to understand the individual’s role and context and accordingly fetch and suggest content that is relevant to the individual and her context. Rather than company-wide intranets or portals, the focus here is on personal KM tools that allow employees to filter out the noise (with re. to their needs) and turn a blind eye to the rest of the knowledge floating around. This is likely to be a big hit amongst the employees as well as management but, as mentioned before, it may be tough to design and build an effective system.  Think innovative organizations. Psychologist?

4. Embrace Differences & Multiple Ingredients (‘Masala’* Indian term for a powder/paste comprising many ingredients and used to lend a complex taste to certain dishes): This is somewhat similar to the ‘Personalize Knowledge’ strategy from the conceptual perspective but lies at the other end of the spectrum from the technological perspective. Instead of focusing on individual employees, this strategy revolves around teams’ and business units’ (BU) idiosyncrasies. It is a decentralized approach and teams and BUs are allowed to adopt methods and tools that they are comfortable with without too many rules and controls. Thus, the organization may adopt varied mechanisms and tools for similar purposes. One team may manage their projects mainly through simple Wiki interfaces while another may have a niche workspace tool (in-house or purchased). Neither of them is forced to change or switch to the other tool/method.  Organizations are likely to be forced into such a strategy when there have been too many divergent and intractable views from the stakeholders or the KM teams were established very late or went through frequent changes in composition, or simply because the business believes in decentralized management down to the BU level. The organization may be quite comfortable with complexity and lack of a dominating central authority. There is no clear big picture as such and teams go about KM in their own convenient ways. The decision to change is taken at the team level. In such a scenario, KM teams may play consultants at the BU level rather than at the organizational level. There may, of course, be efforts to build bridges between selected tools and techniques between certain teams or even at the organizational level in case the organization is expected to benefit highly out of such integration. This strategy may be very hard for people who insist on simplicity, single sources and controlled systems. Such a strategy is debatable in many ways since the organization will still have distinct silos but most large organizations may be forcibly subjected to this strategy. Think of the large conglomerates. Peace-Maker?

5. Inject into Organizational DNA: This is, arguably, a KM strategy in its truest form and perfectly aligned and intertwined with the business and people strategies. It is characterized by the pursuit of plenty of soft knowledge practices rather than a passion for technological advances and experiments. Such a strategy can be designed and adopted only in an organization where the CEO and the key business leaders are genuine KM champions and mentors (encouraging a culture of openness, sharing, learning, reuse, innovation and collaboration). Such a KM strategy will primarily comprise of promotion of localized and organizational level knowledge sharing sessions/conferences/ideation, participation in organizational strategy formulation, practices like mentoring and shadowing, emphasis on employee-relationships, performance evaluation based on team performances rather than individual performances, business and operational processes that pay attention to the knowledge flow from one end to the other etc. The adoption of this strategy also indicates focus on practices like after action reviews, best practices, participation of ex-employees where needed, decision-making by communities etc. Such a strategy may not neglect technology’s role in KM, but it, nevertheless, is more passionate about simple day-to-day practices and mannerisms/habits leading to the efficient and effective sharing of knowledge and collaboration.  Think Buckman Labs. Doctor?

Finally, these are just the central tendencies that I’ve observed in various KM strategies in the organizations I have come across. Obviously, certain organizations may adopt a combination of two or more of the above strategies or may even transition from one to another based on the growth of the organization or change in the KM team composition or adoption of a new technology (the last one, un-ideally so because letting the technology dictate to the strategy is not advisable). That’s all for now. If you have ideas on typical examples for these strategies or what is missing from this list or how I can build upon this theme, please let me know. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Zeroing in on Curbing Corruption

It's been a really long time since I spotted a paradoxical idea worth blogging about. This one comes to me after quite a long break. Source of Info:
Original Blog Post on it:

I think this definitely is a paradoxical idea at its best. Give them what they want. But make it so unique that they no longer want it. ;-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Courage and Contentment @ Universe . Com

I asked what I think is an intriguing question. Sample some of the awesome responses.

Q: What leads to higher courage & contentment? Faith that the Universe is here to help you ( a la the Paulo Coelho quote) or faith that happiness always lies within you?

Saurav Jaiswal: "Both.There isn't much of a difference between what is internal (you) or external (universe).The Universe is you and you are the Universe! :)"  From Linked In

Nikhil Mehta: "Courage and contentment are two different goals, faith in the Universe gives courage and faith that happiness is within gives contentment. " From Linked In
Raj Waghray: Courage is obtained by Knowing oneself. Contentment comes from recognizing the impermanent nature of all  things material. From Twitter

Sukumar: Faith in the limitless power of human endeavor. From Twitter

Deepak Pandian: Courage & contentment rises from the success in even a little attempt which you make ..that builds strengths for the bigger ones. From Twitter

Priya Raju: >>higher courage<< Wisdom prepares you to handle the worst. >>contentment<< Pleasure in the small things life has to offer. From Twitter

Kumaran: Understanding that you are a small cog in the big universe and that you do your bit and let nature takes its course. From Twitter

Anjali Koli: For courage one looks outside while contentment one looks within. Strange? From Google Buzz

Blogger's Notes: Each answer is beautiful in its own way and has the ability to lend strength to anyone feeling lost. Do you see the subtle similarities between some of the responses? Knowing oneself - Wisdom. You're the Universe - You're a Cog in the Universe. Contentment is from within. So forth. Now, what do you think?

Three Quotes

Three quotes that shook me up this morning.

If an egg is broken by an outside force, a life ends. If an egg breaks from within, life begins. Great things always begin from within- Anon (A lesson in this for dominating parents)

You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit a few moments; then the wind blows your footprints away - Arlene Blum (Humbling, don't you think?)

The greatest waste in the world is the difference between what we are and what we could become - Ben Herbste (Aah...that well known struggle to fulfill our God-given potential)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Froggy on my Bloggy. Outsourced.

:-) Heh heh. I like this. Actually, I hope to learn how to create something of this sort some day. Original story, script, cartooning, music and singing (stop clutching at your heart). I think the story and script may perhaps come easy. It's been a long time since I drew any that's going to be a challenge. Music may be bearable and limited to a few guitar chords and some vessel-made clangs. Finally, the singing....ah...well....err.....I may admittedly have to outsource this part of the creation. But don't forget that I shall be a singing child prodigy in my next life to make up for lack of singing talent in this life. Hmph.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

KM & Innovation are the Best of Friends

Well, a long time ago......but not a very long time ago, a passionate innovation evangelist wondered whether KM 'disables' innovation. Yours truly was shocked, stunned, concerned, curious and disturbed enough to want to vehemently deny it. Ironically, one of the reasons why this blogger loves KM is because of the potential role it can play in Innovation! You see the thing now? So, I decided to ramble non-stop (politely and smilingly though) in response to the post by the aforementioned person. Not sure whether that had any impact but this morning I found a student from Singapore posing a similar but milder question, in Linked In, on whether KM and Innovation are on the opposite sides of the table. So, I decided to refer back to the post that I'd come across last year and knew I could pick up my comment on it and sort of quote myself in response to the Linked In query. But to my surprise, the comment I'd left on the post was missing! No trace of it at all. Whatsoever. Strange, eh? You know what that meant....I had to ramble all over again on Linked In. Sad for the student perhaps, for I may have put in more energy into it this time around ;-) 

Here we go. If you believe KM does not enable innovation or, err, 'disables' innovation, then please get a cuppa or a chocolate bar, put aside your belief for just a few moments and consider my ramblings. But please do let me know if what I say makes no sense or if you have better and more points to add to this post. 


This is a topic very close to my heart. I am quite passionate about removing (or at least debating furiously upon) this not so uncommon belief that KM and Innovation don't go along together or are detrimental to each other. Like many responses above indicate, this is far from the truth, IMHO. It all depends on the KM objectives and strategy, overall corporate culture and its ability to focus on the objectives as well as balance different approaches. 

If the organization is exclusively focused on cost cutting and productivity improvements via KM, then obviously the KM team and the management may chant the 'reuse knowledge material' and 'collaborate to avoid redundancy' mantras more than anything else. But if the focus is on combining views in creative ways (which is nothing but innovation) there's nothing like KM for it! KM is about bringing people together, helping them learn from each other, collaborate in creative ways and add each other's learnings and experiences to create something fresh and new! Think of brainstorming sessions. Think of communities of practice! Think of team work. Think of experts in different areas coming together to combine their expertise and making something cool out of almost nothing. 

And, even otherwise, please note that KM strategies have undergone a significant transformation over the last few years. Long gone are the days when organizations and KM teams only used to emphasize on documenting and sharing knowledge via document repositories. Organizations started shifting toward tools for expertise location, social networking, collaboration spaces and now Enterprise 2.0 - which is all about connecting people and letting them innovate as a collective force! All said and done, the culture and the environment must help employees balance reuse and innovation via appropriate KM approaches. 

Finally, I think Nick Milton puts it well - KM should be used only to kill unnecessary innovation! Each individual needs to introspect on the context and the situation  in order to decide whether it calls for a quick reuse of material or independent introspection that could even later be complemented with some reusable material. And do remember - Innovation is generally considered to be the art of looking at old ideas in new ways or combining two or more old ideas in a 'new' way. :-)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stammer, Splutter, Twitter

I was thinking it would be good for me to regularly capture some of those random but worthwhile - personal & introspective - Twitter moments on the blog. Twitter does not have a good memory. Some of these moments are rare meaningful flashes that are hard to recover mentally as well. It would be good to come back to this list and recharge myself if I find myself in a situation that demands sanity - such situations do exist, what? ;-)

Rattling's safe to take off the seat belts.
I guess the commitment to settle for nothing but the best may be a journey of incremental progress, at the risk of others not noticing it

There's a thin line of difference between patience and obsession. They're actually two sides of the same coin. #somewhat_paradoxical

I got a confirmation of something yet again. Many people with organizations believe they are working solely for the latter's profit & good

Ideas are great but executing them takes a herculean effort. You need so many people who're equally true to it. Takes superhuman leadership

Some articles have no summary. Summarizing them would be like inviting you to a buffet & giving you just the starter, drink & the dessert

Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood: I suspect we don't really get rid of our silliness. We just move on from one silliness to another

As long as everyone puts peace & goodness above & ego below everything else most problems are not likely to occur at all...or will be solved

If you want to get interested in a topic and/or understand it better, agree to make a presentation on it

Perseverance gets us there. But we've got to recognize occasions when Letting Go is better, at least, temporarily

An idea that is worth it can both rob you of your sleep & appear sweeter than sleep. Robbery when it eludes you & sweetness when you near it        

The world may have completely lost the ability to think of something without thinking about its potential or actual material cost or value

The dance between Thinking and Doing is a tough one to choreograph. The 'music' is sometimes deafening & sometimes too soft to be heard... 

Doctor or Statistician?

Dazzled by the ability of a Doctor to present a statistical story in the most compelling manner I've ever seen!  Hans Rosling's talk on when India and China will become the superpowers in terms of health and per capita income.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Toyota's KM Problem

Came across this interesting post (by Jack) on the recent Toyota Recall and the associated knowledge management 'problem'. It got my mind running on what could be the potential approaches to deal with such a situation especially because I've been thinking hard about some of these mechanisms for a few months now. 
Extracts from Jack's blog:

The recent Toyota recall and particularly the reporting of the U.S. congressional hearings on the subject turned up at least one tidbit related to knowledge management.  Today's article in the International Herald Tribune isn't published online yet, U.S. official takes heat at Toyota hearing by Micheline Maynard, who seems to be a key reporter on this topic for the NY Times.
The KM connection?  It turns out information and concerns about the sticking accelerator was known and fixed in Europe at least a year before it became a problem in the U.S.
Mr. Inaba ... acknowledged that Toyota had been aware of issues with sticking pedals in Europe for over a year before accidents were reported in the United States.
What happened?  Toyota is regarded as an advanced company with practices in manufacturing and continuous improvement that have made it one of the biggest automobile manufacturers in the world.  The Toyota Production System has been the subject of books and education around the world.  Toyota are even regarded as a Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise.
This is what happened.
Mr. Inaba said the information had been contained in a company database but that it could have been found only if a staff member had known where to look.

To my mind, two simple ways in which such a situation could possibly be approached are:

1. Processes that suggest problems & solutions from an appropriate database at the time of project documentation or any other appropriate project registration activity
2. Smart Enterprise 2.0 mechanisms that automatically retrieve relevant content or even just pointers based on attributes and tags related to domain, technical challenge, expertise area, region etc  

Not sure if what I am imagining in my mind's eye is obvious to the reader but I think it's time we stopped expecting people to consciously look/locate/scout for information - and know exactly where to look - every time they do something that is knowledge-intensive (which could be 'always'). I don't think it is feasible as people may not necessarily be able to predict problems more than anything else. But on the other hand, a smart Enterprise 2.0 based portal that proactively digs into various knowledge sources (as mentioned in #2 above) and floats up relevant content and pointers to content on an employee-specific or project-specific page may make a significant difference. The prerequisite, of course, is that problems encountered elsewhere must be documented or at least mentioned in some form or the other.