« What’s the Deal with KM and HR? | Main | Personal Knowledge Management »

November 22, 2005

Reflecting on KM-World...

Last week I spoke at the KM World conference in San Jose (California, not Costa Rica). It was an interesting conference for several reasons. One, there were lots of people there—maybe 300 or more, which is pretty clear evidence that KM is alive and well. Two, it was their tenth conference, which is something of a milestone for the conference and the field. Three, it was something of a “dog’s breakfast,” as Larry Prusak would say, in terms of content. There were sessions on intranets and blogging and streaming media and communities of practice—you name it, somebody was presenting on it. I suppose one could go all negative and say that this is evidence of a lack of focus for KM, but I think it’s actually pretty positive. We have an amazingly wide variety of tools today to work with. The key, of course, is to understand what tools correspond to what knowledge problems and issues, and to understand the work that your organization’s knowledge workers perform.

I spoke about my book Thinking for a Living and the various types of interventions that one can make into knowledge work. As I spoke I became even more convinced that improving the performance of knowledge workers is what knowledge management should be about. God knows, nobody else is addressing the issue, and with that focus knowledge managers could address a range of solutions that go beyond just technology. Somebody needs to be thinking, for example, about how knowledge workspaces affect knowledge work, and lobbying on behalf of knowledge workers with the facilities and real estate people. Somebody needs to look at what the “self service” movement in organizations—having knowledge workers do all their own administrative transactions—is doing for knowledge worker productivity. Somebody needs to be thinking about how knowledge workers manage their personal information and knowledge environments. Most of the technologies at the KM World conference were oriented to making knowledge work more productive anyway. I think we should step up to that responsibility in terms of technology and anything else that might help.

Posted by Tom Davenport on November 22, 2005 10:30 AM | Permalink

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Hi Tom,

I think a bit differently! I believe that KM should have a direct impact on the business. If that be the cause then all the productivity improvements will be aimed at that, whether they are people related or technology related.

I am sure that you didn't advocate this only for the individual!

Posted by: Pawan Bakhshi, Ph.D. | December 25, 2005 09:42 AM


Excellent presentation. I was in the audience and it started me thinking about personal KM. An easy thing we can do is training on tools that folks already have. We are already putting together a short program for our staff on how to search (internally and externally).

I've been attending KW World for 4 years and have seen quite a few changes. My impressions from the conference can be found on my blog .


Posted by: Jeff Oxenford | November 30, 2005 07:48 PM

But Tom, isn't the secret of increasing knowledge workers' productivity in their own hands...?

I mean, if you are a knowledge worker like a software engineer, but you like designing pots and pans better, the only one who can change the productivity quotient is you yourself. Find out what you love doing and then do it.


Posted by: Gautam | November 29, 2005 07:53 AM

Some interesting comments. On Denham's, i'd argue that it's not either/or--we need those things and technology. On Douglas' comment re personal KM, I too think it's very important and wrote a chapter on it in my new book "Thinking for a Living"--I will post some of it on this blog. On John's comment, I prefer "conservative" to "slow and backward," but it's an interesting point. And on Greg's comment, I do think that some research is necessary in this area, and will talk about it with you soon, Greg!

Posted by: Tom Davenport | November 28, 2005 10:00 AM

Hi Tom
your comment on the wisdom of increasing 'self service' transactions rang true for me.

I have long advocated that when you implement an information system that reduces work in a 'staff' area by spreading that work thinly over the 'line' staff the savings are illusory. More and more 'line' knowledge workers are picking up non-value-adding administrative tasks.

The administration managers get a pat on the back for their savings but a whole-of-firm analysis would show that they are shifting $30 per hour work onto $60 per hour workers and thus actually making an overall loss for the firm.

The extra work is almost invisible but as these non-value adding tasks concatenate, knowledge workers end up working longer hours for little extra output.

I think this would make a neat little research project and might tie in with Guy's benefits realisation work as well.

Greg Timbrell
Queensland University of Technology

Posted by: Greg Timbrell | November 28, 2005 01:19 AM

Hi Tom,

I must say it is disheartening how slow and backward the majority of the KM community is today.

Instead of providing all-important leadership, they seem to be in a risk-averse, CYA mode. Most still don't have a clue or one whit of competency in SNA, open source, social media, Microformats, prediction markets, complexity science, intangibles, etc.

Preoccupation with codification, tools, best practice, collection, stock and rigid agency-type and certifiable process methods has hurt KM badly.

The malaise is manifest through rejection of ANY challenge to the status quo vis-a-vis their newspaper vendor conferences.

For example, blogs and wikis are generally avoided by KM people (way too much entropy for them). While a fundamental and significant KM and PKM advancement, social media are experiencing very slow pull-through in the KM community.

Meanwhile, distributed social media are one of the greatest knowledge-based transformations of our time. KM people are just plain absent.

Most people in KM today can't eve explain ba, wikis, emergence, RSS or structural holes.

It is a grave problem. KM has become, at best, a weak, technology-oriented hygiene factor. KM people need the proverbial kick-in-the-head to start to focus hard on the future, not wallow in past.



Posted by: John T. Maloney | November 26, 2005 07:25 AM

Knowledge Management for performance

I have written a short article recently on "Knowledge Management for performance". The paper is available from KnowledgeManagementforperformance.pdf.

I think it is inline with what Tom is talking about.

Posted by: KK Aw | November 25, 2005 11:45 PM


I agree. Knowledge creation and innovation, while certainly enterpise concerns, have their real roots in personal initiatives.

I think better brainstorming techniques, better meeting methods (De Bono), and many other innovation ideas can be taught to individuals and small teams as Personal KM.

Posted by: Douglas Weidner | November 25, 2005 11:32 AM


I think you are more than hinting at an important KM domain - Personal KM. I was first introduced to it by Steve Barth, probably in 2000, but have not seriously addressed it until recently - 2004.

I have constructed a 2-day course in it, tested in US, Singapore and India, but am still searching for most appropriate themes. You suggest a few--workspaces, added admin burdens ('self-service'), and managing a knowledge worker's personal environments. I have focused on the latter, led by personal vision and mission to motivate actual implementation.

But, questions remain: "What is 'Personal KM'?"; "What emergent technologies will aid worker collaboration and productivity?"; and, "Will PKM provide the grass roots to stimulate and enable KM in organizations with limited KM success?"

I'd like to see more dialogue on PKM to help define it and more attention to tools and techniques to improve worker productivity, regardless whether KM has been a success yet or not.

Posted by: Douglas Weidner | November 25, 2005 11:28 AM


That rings true. We sure need a focus on knowledge creation & innovation, the practices that deliver results and competitive advantage, ways to build a winning social context and speeding idea cycles or OODA loops.

It's not technology but trusted exchange, deep dialog, collaborative thinking and prototyping that we need.

Posted by: Denham Grey | November 23, 2005 03:39 PM

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)