October 19, 2006

Webcast: Competing on Analytics

The AMA is hosting a complimentary webcast on Tuesday, October 31, 2006:

Competing On Analytics: Move Faster, Accomplish More, and Avoid Mistakes by Learning From The Best

Like never before, marketers today are being held accountable for their impact on the corporate bottom line. Quantifiable results matter more than ever as marketing initiatives are conceived, executed, and eventually evaluated.

PRESENTERS:
Professor Tom Davenport, Babson College (that would be me!)
Anna Carbonara, Moderator, American Marketing Association

Capital One, Procter & Gamble, Amazon and other leaders pioneered this data-driven approach to marketing. If your marketing organization is like most, you've already begun a similar move towards leveraging data and analytics. Like most, you're probably also facing the same challenges faced by the early adopters - finding and retaining qualified staff, aligning with shifting business priorities, and satisfying the (seemingly) endless demand for analysis, for example.

What you will learn:

- What data-driven marketing is (and isn't)
- How marketing visionaries are using analytics for competitive advantage
- What specific tactics these early adopters believe are essential to their success (and what they'd do differently next time)
- How you can personally succeed as a marketer during these tumultuous times

Who Should Attend:

- Business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketers at all levels, up to and including CMO's and Vice Presidents of Marketing
- Information technology professionals, particularly those in fields involving collaboration with marketing colleagues

As some of you may have noticed, I've been rather busy. This webcast is a good way to catch up.

I hope to see you there. Register >>

Posted by Tom Davenport at 12:14 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

October 03, 2006

One Way to Stifle Creativity

Some years back I wrote what I thought was a pretty good little article about the origin of a knowledge group at a well-known consulting company. It told the story of two young guys who thought it might be useful to collect proposals and reports from successful engagements and make them available for research and reuse. When their boss rejected the idea, they went ahead anyway, working on weekends, pulling a couple of discarded computers out of a storeroom, soliciting contributions from people they knew, informally spreading word about the resource they had created. A few months later, a consultant used some of the material they had gathered to win a big contract. Demand increased. The bootleg system was eventually legitimized and grew into a sizeable knowledge center.

The article was never published. The company executive whose approval I needed admitted that the article was accurate but said he didn’t want the public to get the impression that things happen in such an informal, ad hoc way at the company. Although he didn’t say so, I think he was also uncomfortable about casting disobedience in a positive light.

I think the fiction he wanted to maintain—that all decisions are carefully deliberated at the top and carried out by those below, that nothing happens by accident—is a damaging one. To the extent that leaders tend to believe it, it stops them from seeking and learning from the innovative ideas and practices that bubble up in odd corners of their organizations. To the extent that they present themselves as the sole source of company wisdom, they stifle the creativity of the people who work for them. (Why bother if leaders won’t listen and then take credit for ideas that survive in spite of their opposition?)

By way of contrast, I think of a story from the early days of Hewlett-Packard. David Packard responded to an engineer who had disregarded an order to stop working on technology that turned into a successful product by calling a meeting of engineers and presenting him with a medal for “extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”

Posted by Don Cohen at 03:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

October 02, 2006

The Rising Tide of Knowledge Populism

I’ve recently thought about writing a book, or at least a few well placed articles, on the subject of knowledge populism, of which evidence is all around us.

Like political populism, which flourished in the US mid-west at the turn of the 20th century, the knowledge populism we see is surely a tricky subject-containing elements both malignant and glorious. It is a natural outgrowth of the world-wide democratization of knowledge and information that is roiling our world in so many ways.

In doing some reading for this subject for a dual talk Tom Davenport and I are doing later in the month, I found some books for you all worth commenting on.

The first is Infotopia, by Cass Sunstein who is a law school professor in Chicago, and is also what I’d call a "public intellectual" i.e. someone willing to talk on subjects outside the technical details of their field, someone actually worth listening to. This book is quite good – it’s short, interesting, and with a real knowledge perspective. Its main theme is the need for deliberation - space and time to deliberate. Sunstein is particularly interested in how many users using the web have the potential to create valuable new knowledge.

Another interesting tome, is by Yochai Benkler, yet another law school guy (this one at Yale – what’s with these guys?). This book is called The Wealth of Networks and is sub-titled How Social Production transforms markets and freedom.

I’m not at all sure about the power of his argument concerning freedom but his arguments about social production are cogent and interesting - if a bit dry and based on neo-classic economics - which is tidy but not real. The book, like Sunstein's, is well written and is also really about knowledge.

We are winning the race, fellow knowledge practitioners!

To butress this last point take a look at a World Bank report, released just a few months back called Where is the wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century.

While the bank researchers still conflate knowledge with human capital, at least they now acknowledge it as a powerful source of intangible wealth.

We have come quite a ways in this regard. Take a look at any economic reckoning of wealth just a few decades ago and there was no mention of any intangibles whatsoever. Now if we can only get accountants and finance people to see the light!! They will if they have Baruch Lev as a professor but he can’t teach everybody!

Posted by Larry Prusak at 10:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

June 06, 2006

Attention Bloggers!

I haven’t written a blog entry in a while, but apparently a lot of people have. I heard in a presentation today that there are (as of May 30th, 2006) 28,592,813 blogs, and 43,109 new blogs in the last 24 hours. Hmmmm. One could argue that this is too many. As I pointed out in my first entry for the Babson Knowledge blog, the key issue is the imbalance of information in the blogosphere and the amount of human attention available to attend to it. It’s far easier to write a blog than to get anyone to read it. This imbalance leads me to believe that a couple of major changes need to take place in individual and organizational information environments.

One is the automated mining of textual and unstructured information. We’re finally getting a handle on how to get value from structured information. But most organizations don’t have a clue about how to mine blogs, emails, instant messages, presentations, and so forth. We don’t have time to look at all of this stuff to see if it’s interesting and relevant to us, so we will have to have systems that find the good content and serve it up or summarize it for us. It is individuals that read and take action on unstructured information, so we need to address this issue at the individual level.

Some of this mining will be automatically intuited by an intelligent system based on stuff we’ve looked at in the past, and perhaps on how we’ve rated it. But, of course, we’ve been hearing for a number of years that such “machine learning” will improve our lives. Thus far and for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to help our computers with some personal interventions. In particular, we’re going to have to get better at specifying what information we care about.

Most of us are pretty haphazard about what information we need and want to see. We click mindlessly through the blogosphere. We read whatever free magazines publishers are willing to send us. We read whatever emails appear in our inboxes or on our Blackberry screens. One prominent GE executive admitted to me—without much sheepishness—that the only articles he reads are those that other people attach to his email messages. This is not a well-designed personal information environment!

Someday it will all be better. I’ll be able to say to a computer something like the following:

- I like and want to read/hear/view content about the Boston Red Sox, analytical competition, attempts to improve the performance of knowledge work, case studies about knowledge management, process management initiatives that employ IT, Julie Bowen (a somewhat obscure but lovely actress) and so forth.

- I don’t want to receive stuff about dining hall schedules at Babson College, regular meetings that I have never attended in the past, marketing messages from IT vendors, movies that are badly reviewed, hockey, Britney Spears, and so forth.

Of course, it’s the “and so forth” that kills us. We know some things we definitely like and don’t like, but we’re always afraid that we’re missing something important, and we’re afraid to rule out sources and topics because there just might be something valuable there. I’m hoping that technology will help us out in this regard—noting that you haven’t looked at the last 42 RSS feeds from a particular blog, so maybe you should stop pretending to be interested in it—or that you seem to be clicking on a lot of sites about real estate in Palo Alto, so should I feed you more of that? Between all of us working a little harder at figuring out what we want, and a bit of help from intelligent software, we’ll eventually get to an attention-preserving environment that still keeps us well-informed.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 12:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

May 22, 2006

A Storytelling Story

Pretty much everyone interested in knowledge management knows that storytelling can be an effective knowledge-sharing technique, largely because it conveys context, causal relationships, and emotional content more effectively than most other modes of communication.

Here’s one little story about storytelling that suggests some of the benefits.

For six years, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory librarian Teresa Bailey has been overseeing monthly storytelling sessions at JPL’s library that often attract fifty or more listeners. Some stories have focused on fairly narrow technical or scientific issues (for instance, “Discovery of Sulfur Dioxide on Jupiter’s Satellite Io”). Other stories have dealt with particular missions (“The True Story Behind the Mars Pathfinder Success”), with more general learning from experience (“How Spacecraft Fail”), and with the organization itself (“Jet Propulsion Laboratory—The Early Years”).

What do people get from these stories? Some pick up bits of wisdom they can apply to their own work—do’s and don’t’s of planning and design, maybe a technical insight that helps solve a problem. Some are inspired by stories of success. Most gain a greater sense of connection with the organization, because they hear about what colleagues have been doing, because the stories express values and aims that tellers and listeners share, and because they are participating in a communal experience. I believe building trust and relationships is a more important effect of organizational storytelling than knowledge transfer.

Knowledge managers seldom talk about what stories do for their tellers. In fact, the benefits of telling a story can be profound. Shaping stories helps people make sense of experiences they’ve had. Telling them to a receptive audience not only provides heartening evidence that colleagues find your work interesting and valuable, it remind the tellers how much they care about what they do. Describing her scientist and engineer storytellers, Bailey says, “They don’t even know how passionate they are about their work until they start talking about it.”

The person who learns most from the story is often the one who tells it.

Posted by Don Cohen at 12:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

May 20, 2006

How Google Plans to Change the Scope of Googling (And Why Information and Knowledge Workers Should Care)

Want to find out where the weird word “pachyderm” came from? Just google the phrase “pachyderm etymology” and within a second you can learn how the English word traces its roots back to Frenchman Georges Cuvier, the father of modern biology. In 1797 Cuvier began using the French pachyderme to describe animals like elephants and hippopotami. The French term derives from pachydermos, the Greek word for thick-skinned.

Want to find out where your company’s 2005 revenue came from? Good luck to you.

These days, employees feel increasingly confident that they can find anything, just as long as it’s external information. But if it’s right under their noses in their companies’ databases, their confidence will often be much lower. (And they will assume that it will take a lot longer to find it.) One obvious culprit is the massive quantity of internal or proprietary data that companies now stockpile—an amount that continues to grow 40-70 percent a year. As one analyst recently noted, “in the same way that consumers were set adrift in the early days of the Web, enterprises are now drowning in data sets of their own.”

Enter Google, which is now redoubling its efforts to do for internal information what it once did for the Internet. Below we offer excerpts from a few noteworthy articles that outline the company’s strategy to “go corporate”—and thus diversify away from its core search-advertising business, which currently drives 95 percent of its sales.

- In “Google shifts focus to show it means business,” Matthew Glotzbach, Google’s head of enterprise products, explains: "Companies have to deal with [internal content explosion] if they want to compete. Google wants to use its experience in web search to provide a ‘fast front door’ to that information – one that doesn’t require any special training for users."

- Quoted in another article, “Enterprise Search: A Different Animal,” Glotzback describes how Google’s search appliance allows administrators to select documents that will appear at the top of results for specific key words, not unlike the way Google.com returns a few paid listings at the top of natural search results. “It's almost like an internal ad.”

- In an interview with CIO Insight, Dave Girouard, general manager of the enterprise business, describes the fruits of his customer research: “When you put Google inside a company…There's almost a sigh of relief that now they'll be able to find their information. For us, that is always the most important thing—how well does it solve the problem for the end-user.”

- Finally, in “Google dodges knowledge management question,” you’ll see Google product marketing manager Arvind Desikan do just that. However, Desikan does mention a couple of potential case studies worth tracking, "We appear to have served the knowledge management needs of several large companies to date, including BA and Schlumberger."

Posted by James Wilson at 12:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

April 05, 2006

The KM Benefits of Having a Higher Purpose

I don’t have statistics to prove it, but anecdotal evidence suggests that people working at organizations devoted to missions other than (and arguably higher than) making money share knowledge more readily than employees at companies that emphasize the bottom line.

My colleagues and I have looked at knowledge programs at the World Bank, NASA, the navy, and MITRE, among other entities devoted to reducing poverty, advancing science and space exploration, and contributing to national security. Although these organizations have their share of territoriality and competitiveness, their missions do seem to encourage people to share knowledge and cooperate more readily than they would without a sense of a shared worthy purpose. My conversations with experienced NASA project managers suggest that knowledge sharing happens most fully and readily when project leaders keep the value and excitement of their shared mission in view and appeal to that inspiring goal to help resolve disagreements and overcome crankiness and suspicion.

There is a lesson here for for-profit companies. Knowledge workers are unlikely to devote time and talent to knowledge management activities if the only articulated purpose for those efforts is to save money for the corporation. The CEO and CFO and major stockholders may be inspired by those dollars, but most employees aren’t. In many cases, though, profit-making companies can also legitimately invoke a higher purpose to support knowledge sharing—perhaps scientific discovery or the public benefits of their products or services or even pride in the quality of work accomplished. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, are unquestionably profit-making ventures, but most researchers are driven (and driven to seek and share knowledge) by the goal of discovering drugs that cure diseases. For them, profits are a byproduct of a scientific and humanitarian achievement.

People who are proud of their work are more likely to offer what they know to people they think of as colleagues in a shared journey toward a worthwhile goal.

Posted by Don Cohen at 06:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

March 27, 2006

Building Your Company's Innovation Portfolio

Innovation is back in style. Many companies that had been cautious over the past several years and primarily focused on cost reductions are now turning their focus to innovation. There is ample evidence of this orientation. For example, 87% of senior executives in a 2005 survey said that generating organic growth through innovation is necessary for success in their industries, and 74% planned to increase spending on innovation in 2005.1

Yet the mere desire for more innovation won't make it happen, and many organizations have poorly-managed approaches to innovation. In particular, they have too narrow a focus on innovation, and address only the product innovation domain. They do not manage an innovation portfolio in terms of how they source, fund, monitor, and assign responsibility for innovation. As a result, they will continue to have weak innovation results. In the 2005 study mentioned above, only 49% of the surveyed executives were satisfied with the financial returns on investments in innovation. In another 2005 analysis, there was no correlation between spending on innovation and the overall financial performance of organizations.2

In order to construct and manage an innovation portfolio, an organization must identify the types of innovation that are important to it, the key steps in the innovation process, and the primary responsibilities for managing it. Then it can begin to create a more formal approach for managing a broader, more comprehensive innovation portfolio. I'll describe each of the elements of such a portfolio.

Types of Innovation
What are the possible types of innovation that organizations can and should pursue? Unfortunately, most organizations focus only upon product innovation. In a 2003 study of companies' innovation sourcing strategies, two other researchers and I discovered that product innovation was far more likely to be addressed than any other type. 70% of the executives surveyed in the study said their organizations pursued product innovation, whereas the next most common responses (service and process innovation) were being pursued by only 20% of respondents.

Product innovation is certainly important, and in some ways it offers the clearest economic payoff for innovation. Companies create products, take them to market, and sell them to customers. Yet there are important arguments for going beyond product innovation alone. First of all, an increasing proportion of sophisticated economies are based on services—over 70% in the United States, for example3. Secondly, even in product markets, customers often buy products not just on the basis of the product's characteristics, but on the business model and processes by which the product is sold, and the services offered after the sale. Finally, companies are much more likely to produce effective and economically valuable products and services if they have innovative and high-quality management approaches.

IBM illustrates both the predominance of product innovation, and the emerging rise of other innovation domains. For several decades the company has vigorously pursued product and component research at its corporate laboratories such as Watson and Almaden. Despite the fact that half of its revenues derive from services, only in the last year has the company officially recognized services innovation as part of its innovation portfolio, creating the Services Research group at its Almaden Labs.

What does service innovation mean? For companies such as IBM offering business services, it means the development and testing of new ways to deliver services such as e-commerce, and new ways to help organizations change their cultures and processes. For organizations such as Bank of America that serve consumers, service innovation can mean identifying and testing new approaches to serve customers at the branch or point of sale.4 For a company that performs detailed building services such as ServiceMaster, service innovation might take the form of industrial engineering-like attempts to streamline movements and reduce wear and tear on workers and equipment. Of course, just as product innovation takes a somewhat different form in each company, so will service innovation.

Organizations are increasingly prospering from a combination of product and service innovation. Apple's iPod, for example, would not have been nearly as successful without the availability of the iTunes content downloading service. When IT companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard announce new products, there is often a need for services to install, implement, maintain, or extract value from them.

Process innovation can take place in product or service firms. It usually involves either internal business processes, or those involved in delivering products and services to customers. Process innovation can involve revolutionary or breakthough improvement in broad, cross-functional processes (sometimes called business process reengineering),5 or can also entail continuous or one-time improvement in smaller processes, as in Total Quality Management or Six Sigma initiatives. Some companies focus their process innovation efforts in some areas more than others. Dell Computer, for example, is more oriented to manufacturing and supply chain processes than to any other type. Others, such as Raytheon, have a broad corporate program that addresses all processes with one approach (Six Sigma in Raytheon’s case). Most organizations should have a portfolio of process innovation initiatives underway at any given time, including both breakthrough and incremental innovations where necessary.

Managerial innovation involves the exploration and adoption of new approaches for managing people, technology, and other strategic business resources. There have been hundreds of new management ideas over the past several decades, yet most organizations are woefully haphazard or faddish in how they adopt and embrace particular ideas. Just as product innovation usually involves researchers and engineers, and process improvement has specialists such as Six Sigma "black belts," managerial innovation is usually driven by a type of individual called an "idea practitioner"—someone who identifies appropriate new management ideas and shepherds them through implementation.6

Business model innovation may be the least well known of all the innovation domains. Business models are an organization's fundamental logic for going to market and making money. Business model innovation is critical because it is directly tied to an organization's economic fortunes. The concept became popular at the height of the e-commerce explosion, when many companies explored online business models for the first time. But e-commerce isn't the only form of business model innovation that companies can explore. Any company offering an expensive product for sale, for example, could explore the possibility of selling the same capability as an on-demand service (as many computer firms, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard) are currently doing.

Clearly there are other potential innovation types in addition to these, such as store design, architectural, and packaging innovation. Not all of these will be appropriate for all organizations at all times. Clearly some forms of innovation are going to be more important to a particular firm than others. However, a broad portfolio of innovation domains is desirable.

Additional Information:
1 Boston Consulting Group, "Innovation 2005," online at www.bcg.com
2 Barry Jaruzelski et al, "Money Isn't Everything," Strategy + Business 41, Winter 2005, p. 57.
3 James Brian Quinn, Intelligent Enterprise: A Knowledge and Service-Based Paradigm for Industry. (Free Press, 1992)
4 Stefan Thomke, "R&D Comes to Services: Bank of America's Pathbreaking Experiments," Harvard Business Review, April 2003.
5 Thomas H. Davenport, Process Innovation: Rengineering Work though Information Technology (Harvard Business School Press, 1993).
6 Thomas H. Davenport and Lawrence Prusak, What's the Big Idea? Creating and Capitalizing on the Best Management Thinking (Harvard Business School Press, 2003).

Posted by Tom Davenport at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (3)

March 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Books on Knowledge

Two rather important and quite different books have been published this week that should be of considerable interest to anyone who cares about the task of better understanding how knowledge works in this world.

The first, The New Argonauts : Regional Advantage in a Global Economy by AnnaLee Saxenian is published by Harvard University Press.

This is the first real empirical study on how knowledge-flows really work.

The author has done extensive research in how the Indian, Chinese, and Israelis study and work and learn in Silicon Valley and how they bring this knowledge back to their countries where it takes root in often spectacular fashion.

This migration of knowledge thru the medium of human capital is a very powerful force in the growing democratization of knowledge and is rarely analysed and documented with such power as Saxenian employs.

Saxenian is an economic geographer and is Dean of the best school in the US to study information and knowledge: the University of California at Berkeley. Saxenian has done her work throroughly, both in voluminous interviews and in telling stories mixed with analysis. She conveys very, very well just how local and social knowledge is, and how it gets transferred by groups who already share trust thru shared ethnicity.

Another stunning, though quite different knowledge book, is David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth Of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery published by Norton.

Warsh is one of the very few economic journalists in the US who knows his theory as well as how the subject is practised.

This book is nothing les then an intellectual history of how the very idea of knowledge has re-entered economics (it was an important theme to Adam Smith but got lost in the later 20th century).

The book ends with a great discussion on the work of Paul Romer who has done the most to put knowledge into development thinking and explain it in a way that it will eventually find it sway into Freshman textbooks (if they still read).

If you are wondering why this is important to anyone besides academics or economists, its because once these ideas get established in mainstream disciplin es they gather momentum and begin to be taught in business schools. Until that happens the subject remains either a marginal activity or just one more thing consultants sell to bewildered managers.

Knowledge is far too important for this fate and Warsh explains just how it has risen, fallen and is rising again to take its place as a key concept in understanding the 21st Century.

Posted by Larry Prusak at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

January 23, 2006

Organizational Knowledge and “Higher Modesty”

I recently had a conversation with Bob Sutton of Stanford about Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management, the new book he and Jeffrey Pfeffer have written. Among the reasons Bob gave for why leaders and managers make decisions contrary to available evidence is what he calls “confirmation bias.” That’s the tendency to notice and believe information that supports your existing beliefs and ignore or discredit information that contradicts them. James March makes a similar point when he notes how frequently managers make decisions first and ask questions later, doing analysis to “prove” that the decision makes sense.

It’s a common, powerful human behavior: most of us pay more attention to news, events, and opinions that seem to confirm our ideas than to evidence that those ideas may be wrong; most of us look for reasons to justify what we’ve already decided we want to do. And we live in a culture that values certainty more than doubt, especially in our leaders.

But the dangers are obvious. We all knows stories of leaders who confidently drive their organizations over a cliff, ignoring warnings and evidence of the dangers ahead. “SSW”—Swift, Sure, and Wrong—is an acronym used in some medical schools to describe confident, disastrous decisions in medicine. Less dramatically, organizations miss opportunities and are surprised by challenges because confirmation bias keep them from seeing important information. In a knowledge economy, being blind to essential knowledge is clearly a problem.

It is difficult but possible to do something about it. Bob Sutton cites IDEO, an industrial design firm that, he says, acts with knowledge while doubting what they know. I’m aware of one CEO who asked a knowledgeable outsider to send him an email whenever he saw him doing something stupid. We can make conscious efforts to be skeptical about confirming evidence and open to evidence that tells us we may be wrong. We can listen to the people on the fringes of our groups and organizations, rather than dismiss them because they are “different.” We can try to have a bit of what the early 20th century writer Edmund Gosse calls “higher modesty”—the willingness to question one’s own deepest beliefs that Gosse considers an essential characteristic of great scientists.

Posted by Don Cohen at 05:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

January 09, 2006

The Knowledge Technology Trap

Again and again during the two dozen interviews I’ve conducted to figure out what we’ve learned from a decade of knowledge management experiences, practitioners said, “Knowledge management projects focused mainly on technology will fail,” or words to that effect. No surprise there. From the early days of KM, thoughtful commentators talked about the human and organizational elements of knowledge work and the need to balance technology, process, and culture. Everyone heard stories of failed technology-driven projects—“knowledge bases” ignored by intended users, unreliable and abandoned expertise locators.

But some of the same practitioners who expressed this supposedly obvious truth said that the point had to be made again and again to prevent their organizations from falling back into the mistake of depending on technology to make knowledge sharing happen. Companies still invest in mainly technological fixes to knowledge problems and, when those fail, they do it again, pinning their hopes on some improvement or other in the software.

Why?

Part of the answer is that the human element is complicated and subtle. When you buy hardware and software, you at least know what you’re getting for your money. Investments in relationships and behaviors are harder to see and measure. Also, and despite all the talk about the old factory-model of the organization dying away and the importance of “our people” in the knowledge age, I think many leaders still want to think of their organizations as efficient machines and people as part of the equipment who “should” adjust themselves to the rest of the mechanism without pampering or a lot of talk about “culture.”

In the U.S. at least, a sheer love of technology may be an even more important factor. We have a long history of believing that the next technological marvel will eliminate drudgery or hunger, cure disease, make us happy. The social, political, and environmental problems of the last half century may have weakened our faith in redemption by technology, but the longing for simple, mechanical solutions remains strong. It’s reflected not just in the love of technology, but in the belief underlying the whole self-help industry—the idea that a pill, a mantra, or a machine can make us slim, beautiful, rich, and happy.

This persistent search for the silver bullet (or the silver bullet point) is a kind of tribute to American optimism, the belief that we can make ourselves, our companies, and the world better if we find the magic formula. Too bad it’s not true.

Posted by Don Cohen at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (0)

January 05, 2006

Lesser-Known, Must-Read KM Books for 2006

There are quite a few good books about KM and related practices that never receive much publicity and consequently are rarely seen by practitioners and have little impact on practice.

For those of you with a taste for theory and a little patience, however, there is much of value in these academic tomes. Here are some recent ones, all read by yours truly (I don’t watch TV or talk too much on planes so I get some reading done).

Knowledge, Institutions and Evolution in Economics by Brian Loasby. This is a very well written book by an economist(yes, some of them can write and even write well about knowledge). Loasby' lectures are focused on how knowledge as embedded in organizations can best be understood as an evolutionary phenomenon. He is right, too.

Architectures of Knowledge : Firms, Capabilities, and Communities by Ash Amin(an economic geographer, and Patrick Cohendet, an economist). This is a very good book, original and full of insights on the spaces of knowledge and learning to be found in society and in organizations. The chapter on "The Spaces of Knowing" is worth the price of the paperback edition, by itself. The book is very "cross-disciplinary" and rewards frequent reading (especially if you fly often).

Complex Knowledge : Studies in Organizational Epistemology by Haridimos Tsoukas. He is an abstract thinker and organizational theorist and these are his collected essays on knoweldge and learning. Tsoukas is quite influenced by complexity theory (but not in a silly or superficial way) and is a great believer in sense-making a-la Karl Weick [Sensemaking in Organizations, Making Sense of the Organization, and Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity]. Don’t miss the chapter entitled "Do We Really Understand Tacit Knowledge." It’s the best one in the book.

Finally, for those of you with a taste for theory grounded in cases there is a very good introduction to KM by Donald Hislop entitled Knowledge Management in Organizations: A Critical Introduction. This is far more then just a text for MBAs, etc. It’s a critical synthesis based on much reading and observing. Not always sympathetic to our more simple practices, it’s a great text to give to someone new to the subject who is smart and can't stand most business books (Sue Newell's Managing Knowledge Work would be a great choice too).

All of these books are new and can easily be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. There are other such tomes around that I'd be happy to discuss if anyone is interested. Let me know and have a great 2006!

Posted by Larry Prusak at 02:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

December 26, 2005

Was Drucker Wrong?

OK, I will confess that this entire posting was originally motivated by self-interest: I checked the Amazon sales rank for my book Thinking for a Living, and found that it had fallen over the past few days from the respectable levels it occupied for the first couple of months it was out. Most authors, of course, are semi-obsessed by their Amazon rankings; I get less so with each book I write.

But the apparent fact that my tome is not going to compete with Who Moved My Cheese at the top of the best-seller lists made me wonder just how important it really is to make knowledge workers more productive and effective.

I also had a chat a few days ago with a Wall Street Journal reporter who is researching an article on knowledge worker productivity. He asked me if the subject is important. I said yes, and mouthed the old Peter Drucker chestnut that “making knowledge work productive is the greatest economic challenge of this century.” He asked, “Well, was Drucker wrong?”

Mon dieu! How could he possibly ask such a question, particularly since the great man only passed a few weeks ago?

In order to quickly deflect such a heresy, I spewed out a few more clichés, such as “Knowledge workers are the key to growth and innovation in their organizations,” and “Unless our knowledge workers are the most productive and effective on earth, their jobs will flow to the parts of the world where they do it better.”

Then he asked the killer question. “Are companies doing anything about this?” Again, I spouted the names of a few companies that have actually attempted to make life better for their knowledge workers: Intel, Capital One, Novartis, Cisco…OK, it’s a pretty short list. If improving knowledge worker productivity is so important, why aren’t more companies doing something about it?

There are some good reasons, i.e.:
1. It’s hard.
2. It takes a fair amount of up-front investment.
3. Knowledge workers, like Greta Garbo, like to be left alone.

But these seem insufficient as rationales for doing little or nothing to make knowledge workers more successful at work (other than providing them with their very own legal copy of Microsoft Office, a PC, and a telephone with voice mail). I am frankly puzzled why more of this isn’t happening. If you know the answer, you will be giving me (and the world) a great holiday present if you feel generous enough to share it.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (2)

December 21, 2005

Think You’re Thinking Outside the Box? Sorry.

There are a lot of business-language clichés I’d be happy never to hear again. I don’t care for the phrases that confuse people with computer technology (“Let’s talk about that off-line.” “I don’t have the bandwidth to take that on.”). Or the tendency to use a ponderous phrase when one straightforward word will do (saying “in the July timeframe” instead of “in July”). Or those ugly “-ize” verbs (“incentivize;” “operationalize;” “productize”).

But maybe my least favorite phrase is “think outside the box.” It bothers me partly because I’ve heard it used 11,580 times in the past 10 years. (I’m exaggerating, but I’ve heard it a lot.) Also because people who talk about “thinking outside the box” never will. If they could, they wouldn’t use a tired cliché to talk about originality. When advertisers parody a phrase (“Think outside the bun”), it’s time to move on.

What does any of this have to do with organizational knowledge? Well, a lot of knowledge sharing happens through language that not only communicates a certain quantity of information about something but that intrigues, inspires, and tells you that the speaker is thoughtful, knowledgeable, and alert. Good knowledge-sharing language generates energy and thoughtfulness. The dead language of clichés that you’ve heard a hundred times before puts people’s minds to sleep (and sometimes their bodies, too).

So what’s the take-away? Net-net, implementing cliché avoidance 24/7 is a win-win for speakers and listeners alike. If you disagree, let’s take it up off-line, when I’ve got some more bandwidth.

Posted by Don Cohen at 12:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

December 12, 2005

The Yule Punch-inspired KM Discussion

I went to a local holiday party last week and as usual I was asked what I do, etc.

I usually give a bland answer to these sort of inquries but having had my share of Yule punch I actually responded that I studied knowledge in all its varied forms, etc. I was then asked an interesting question from a professor of mathematics that was new to me and that you might find interesting, too. He asked me what word I would use to replace the word knowledge in my talks, research, etc. if for some reason I couldn’t use the word ever again.

I gave this some thought and came up with UNDERSTANDING. However thinking about this point is a good way to get discussions going in seminars, classes etc. when you get blank looks in asking students to say what they mean by the word knowledge.

I also began to think what could replace information. I would choose MESSAGE but once again there are many contenders for the role.

Any suggestions?

Posted by Larry Prusak at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (0)

December 06, 2005

The Four Names for Knowledge

One of the problems of actually doing knowledge-management-type-of-things is the fact that the English language has only one word for knowledge.

The Romance languages have at least two, as does German and Slavic. But the best example of how a culture uses language to distinguish the varied types of knowledge that we use in the world is Classical Greek.

As described in a mis-titled but excellent book, Tacit Knowledge in Organizations, by Phillipe Baumard, Aristotle and Plato had at least four words at their disposal to discuss what we make do with only one overused word.

The Greeks had Episteme, from which we derive Epistomolgy. This word meant repeatable rules, codified and universal. In other words, Science. Then they had Techne, from which we get technology. This term meant something like craft, or capability The though being that person so endowed would be able to DO something that was neither pure thought or pure manual activity.A third term was Phronesis, which we would probably understand as emotional intelligence, or social skills. Its what good managers, therapists, and teachers have,. A very interesting fourth term was Metis, which has no current term but is closest to savvy, cunning or street smart.

The Greeks mention that Ulysses had this skill, and one of my heroes, Isaiah Berlin, wrote this is what great politicians like Churchill and Roosevelt (whom Berlin knew) had-the almost intuitive skill to rapidly understand a difficult situation and make sense of it.

Some of you may think that this is just hair-splitting or worse- after all- information, knowledge, data, aren’t they really all the same? Or close to the same?

Well, no they are not.

And I have seen (no exaggeration here) tens of billions of dollars wasted on building knowledge "systems" or operations that were supposed to make an organizations knowledge more effective or efficient but really only reformatted data or documents. Imagine if the poor executives who build these monuments to futility had read the Classics in college instead of engineering? Perhaps they might have saved their organizations from such worthless efforts?

Posted by Larry Prusak at 11:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (0)

November 30, 2005

The High Cost of Missing Knowledge: One Example

Last Thursday, a house exploded in Lexington, Massachusetts, where I live. TV news showed the smoldering ruins and told about the people who had come out to rake leaves just before their home blew up.

You hear similar stories from time to time: a gas leak, a spark, boom—no more house. This was different. Turns out that workers from the gas company, following an order they’d received, connected a high-pressure gas pipe to a low-pressure one, creating a pressure spike throughout the system. That caused leaks and equipment damage throughout the town, and the explosion. It has meant 1,800 homes without heat for the better part of a week, restaurants closed in the center of town, and literally hundreds of gas company employees working 24 hours a day, digging up dozens of streets to replace damaged parts of the system and checking gas lines in every one of those 1,800 homes. One evening, I counted 31 company trucks on Massachusetts Avenue. Lawsuits are likely.

You can bet this error will cost the gas company many millions of dollars. I don’t know how it happened, but I imagine there must have been opportunities to avoid it. This was no subtle mistake; they connected a 60 pounds-per-square-inch line to a 2 pounds-per-square-inch line. The manager who gave the order could have caught his own error, perhaps someone who transmitted it could have noticed, the supervisor of the work crew could have seen it, the workers themselves might have said, “Wait a minute; this isn’t right.” You’d think those high- and low-pressure lines would look different (but apparently they don’t).

This episode suggests a couple of points. One is that a lack of knowledge or a failure to apply knowledge at a critical moment (“this is wrong!”) can be expensive and dangerous. Another is that avoiding such problem requires experienced people who can recognize errors, a culture that encourages people to speak up when they see a problem, and systems that incorporate and provide essential information (for instance, color-coded gas pipes, in this case, or drug-interaction databases in hospitals).

I had a conversation with Dorothy Leonard this morning, she mentioned that one of the problems with trying to measure the value of knowledge management is that much of it helps avoid problems, and how do you measure something that doesn’t happen? True, but when it does happen, the cost of missing knowledge is clear.

Posted by Don Cohen at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (0)

November 28, 2005

Personal Knowledge Management

Most interventions to improve performance in business are at the organizational or process level, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can also improve individual capabilities. Ultimately, knowledge worker performance comes down to the behaviors of individual knowledge workers. If we improve their individual abilities to create, acquire, process and use knowledge, we are likely to improve the performance of the processes they work on, and the organizations they work for.

Individual knowledge work improvement initiatives have two attributes. One, they are directly focused on improving performance of knowledge worker employees as individuals, not as members of a larger group. A CRM program for customer service workers doesn’t qualify, because a number of people in that function would use it, and the system is not (or at least rarely) customized to individual needs. Secondly, individually-oriented initiatives are targeted at improving some skill or capability, rather than instituting a new process. Once again, giving knowledge workers a new piece of hardware or software—say, a personal digital assistant or cell phone—wouldn’t qualify, but teaching them how to use these devices effectively would.

I became persuaded of the virtues of improving knowledge worker capabilities at the personal level when working with the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon. As you may know, the SEI is famous for its “Capability Maturity Model,” an assessment tool for software engineering processes. It evaluates firms or business units on their overall approaches to software development. But Watts Humphrey, the developer of the CMM, had another key insight. He realized that it was taking too long for many organizations to move up through five stages of the CMM, and began to think about what might accelerate the process. He concluded that if organizations were to develop team and individual-level capabilities in addition to those at the organizational level, they would probably improve much faster.

SEI’s research has borne out this hypothesis. Companies employing the “personal software process” and the “team software process” have been known to move from the lowest to highest levels of software development maturity in about a year—versus an average of close to ten years for this journey using only organization-level approaches.

Just as in software development, there are generic knowledge worker skills that almost everyone employs, and could benefit from improving. What do all knowledge workers do? They read and write, of course, and our educational systems do a pretty decent job of inculcating these skills. Even that doesn’t stop some assiduous knowledge workers from taking courses in speed reading, business writing, or the like. No doubt more of this should be done.

Knowledge workers also spend a lot of time in meetings. Most organizations, of course, don’t do a very good job at helping their employees run meetings effectively. A few, like Xerox, have organization-wide programs focused on maintaining a high quality of meetings. However, there are plenty of written materials and educational options for people who want to learn more about meeting management, so I won’t say anything more about it here.

Increasingly, however, knowledge workers also process information—on paper, in telephone conversations and voice messages, and electronically. This subject is much newer than reading, writing, and meeting, and there is relatively little information available about how to do it well, or how organizations can help their knowledge workers do it well. In my recent book Thinking for a Living, I report on three research efforts to better understand this subject. Two were undertaken by a group of companies seeking to understand information work; both corporate and individual-level research projects were undertaken by this group. The report from that project can be found here.

In the same chapter I also report on more detailed interviews of individuals who claim to be very effective in the own personal information and knowledge management. I think this is a fast-rising topic, and we will be hearing much more about it in the future.

Others who have written about it online include Dave Pollard, a former CKO from Ernst & Young and David Gurteen, a long-term web guy and blogger on KM.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 07:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (2)

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 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (0)

November 14, 2005

What’s the Deal with KM and HR?

So I went down to New York looking forward to giving my talk at the big Biotechnology HR conference, even though it was only a breakout session.

Several of the interviews I had recently done for my research on what we’ve learned about knowledge management suggested that human resources and knowledge management might be beginning to come together in interesting ways. One HR department was collaborating with a knowledge manager to develop talent through personal networks rather than training; another was using knowledge-sharing techniques in some of its succession planning.

Since I’ve always thought knowledge management and human resources should work together (so that, for instance, the people hired have collaborative skills), I thought these were promising developments. My talk—on how to attract and retain talented employees—seemed a perfect opportunity to do my little bit to nudge KM and HR toward one other.

I had twenty people in the room, all clustered toward to back. (Bad sign: that’s where the door was.) I gave my spiel: talented people were attracted by opportunities to learn and do interesting work with interesting people, not just by money; favor hiring based on potentials more than credentials; social network analysis and mentoring could help connect newcomers with the organization; HR needed to be part of the firm’s strategic planning process to know what kinds of employees the organization would need in the future; etc.

Six people left during the talk. The rest were unresponsive (to jokes, questions, abject begging for comments). They were so unresponsive that I couldn’t tell if they:

a) were paralyzed by my brilliance;
b) had heard it all before;
c) hated every word.

All in all, the talk didn’t feel like a success.

So here’s my personal scorecard for that New York trip:

Two good restaurant meals on 9th Avenue in the 40s (at Marseille and Cara Mio—Hell’s Kitchen has changed a lot since I was a kid growing up on Long Island). One lousy show (Dr. Sex: The Musical—Don’t ask, but it was a Monday night and almost nothing is on). And a bit less optimism about the coming together of KM and HR, mixed with a lot of puzzlement about what those people were thinking. If you have a guess, let me know.

Posted by Don Cohen at 12:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

November 12, 2005

Farewell Peter Drucker

I see by today’s New York Times that the great Peter Drucker died yesterday at 95. All knowledge practitioners are in his debt as he was the very first theorist and writer to raise the issues of knowledge worker, knowledge productivity, and the entire subject of the role of knowledge in the economy with executives. Some economists and even sociologists had raised some of these points but none had even a fraction of Drucker’s clout and influence with management.

What is also interesting, though also very sad, is how just how little has changed in corporate practice in spite of Drucker’s polemics, philippics, rants and analyses. The Times mentions how he often stressed that firms need to look beyond profitability to remain healthy, how organizations need to see workers as assets not costs, that decision making needs to devolve to the workers who actually know what’s going on, and many other notions believed fervently by me and you but still rarely if at all practiced in large and medium sized firms.

With all the sales of his many books, his crystal clear prose, his immense learning, and his accessible style, did much change in American corporate practice because of him?

Posted by Larry Prusak at 11:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)

November 08, 2005

Knowledge Management: Broadening and Narrowing

I realized recently that my philosophy on where knowledge management should go seems a little contradictory. On one hand, I have been arguing that knowledge managers should view the field more broadly. In other respects, I’ve argued for a narrower approach. I’ll explain in this blog entry.

KM, as traditionally defined, addresses the capture and distribution of textual knowledge with IT. Even though organizations typically try to capture the knowledge of all their employees across the entire organization, this is a narrow objective in a sense—there are many other things that companies can do with KM. For example, I’ve argued that companies can focus on such things as knowledge creation, knowledge work and workspace redesign, employee and customer suggestions, and business intelligence. I could do a blog entry on each of these knowledge worker “interventions”—and I probably will—but the key is to take a broader approach. If KM doesn’t get broader, it’s probably not going to survive. And from the customer’s standpoint, your generic knowledge worker doesn’t really care whether what’s offered falls into the “knowledge” category or not—they just want to do their work better.

At the same time, however, I’d argue that KM has to be narrower. If we’re going to do more things, we have to focus them on particular audiences. KM may potentially benefit everybody, but the greatest benefits of knowledge-oriented interventions will come when we focus them on a particular job, role, or knowledge work process. I’ve seen some great successes with interventions into particular roles at such organizations as:

- Partners Health Care (with doctors)
- BT (for call center workers)
- Internal Revenue Service (collections agents)
- Fisher-Price (toy designers)

You can’t boil the ocean, and you can’t improve every knowledge worker’s performance at the same time. So it’s really important to pick some knowledge workers whose performance really matters to your organization’s success. In recent months I’ve heard that Intel, Accenture, and several other firms have adopted a similar philosophy.

So there you have it. Broader and narrower—the key to success in dealing with knowledge and knowledge work.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 11:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)

October 18, 2005

Knowledge Management Lives!

Good news for knowledge management fans. In the latest Bain & Company survey of management tools, knowledge management has prospered somewhat. It’s not quite as popular as, say, strategic planning (the perennially most popular management tool in the Bain survey), but it’s moving up. 54% of companies in the survey said they used knowledge management, which was exactly the mean level of usage for 25 different management tools. It’s more likely to be used than such tools as EVA, loyalty management, and Six Sigma. Knowledge management was below the mean in satisfaction levels among companies that have used it, but its satisfaction level is improving over the 2003 survey, when it had the lowest satisfaction scores of any tool. Loyalty management has replaced KM at the bottom of the satisfaction ranks—and that’s still a good idea—so I’m not worried about knowledge. You can download the full text of the study at www.bain.com/management_tools/home.asp

Further evidence of KM’s long lifespan comes from a “bibliometric” study by Mike Koenig, a professor at Long Island University, and Len Ponzi, a former doctoral student of his. They note that unlike a lot of management fads, the use of the term “knowledge management” in print media has not fallen over time but continues to rise—at least by 2003, when their study ended. Most new management notions have a brief lifespan, but KM keeps growing. Larry Prusak and I suggested that this was the case in our book What’s the Big Idea, but it’s nice to have some data about it.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 05:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

October 14, 2005

6 Common Attributes of Knowledge Work and Knowledge Workers

The fact that knowledge workers primarily rely on their brains in their jobs rather than their bodies means that they have some attributes in common. These aren't terribly surprising, and they all follow from a few basic principles and observations, but they need to be stated. Most derive from the fact that knowledge work is less structured and perhaps less structurable than administrative or production work.

The basic principles and observations follow below:

1. Knowledge Workers like Autonomy
One important aspect of knowledge workers is that they don't like to be told what to do. Thinking for a living engenders thinking for oneself. Knowledge workers are paid for their education, experience, and expertise, so it is not surprising that they often take offense when someone else rides roughshod over their intellectual territory.

Of course, knowledge workers don't like for their work to be ignored, and there are some things they like to be told, such as the broader significance and implications of their tasks and jobs. But they'd generally like the details to be left to them.

This autonomy is in part a natural result of the nature of knowledge work. Since it's difficult to tell whether a knowledge worker is actually thinking at any given moment, supervisors pretty much have to take their word for it.

The knowledge worker also knows the circumstances in which he or she thinks best. If a computer programmer tells the boss that he is most productive working from 8PM to 4AM, smart bosses would try to facilitate that arrangement. The outputs of knowledge work are also difficult to specify in great detail, so that is generally left up to the worker.

2. Specifying the detailed steps and flow of knowledge-intensive processes is less valuable and more difficult than for other types of work.
This is a corollary of my first generalization about knowledge work.

Knowledge workers don't like to be told what to do, and they also don't like see their jobs reduced to a series of boxes and arrows.

Typically, when we want to improve performance we begin by breaking down the structure of the task into its constituent elements. This has been the case at least since Frederick Taylor's day, if not before. The idea is that when broken into piece-parts, knowledge work processes can be more easily followed and measured, and unnecessary steps eliminated altogether.

However, this approach often doesn't work very well for knowledge work and workers.

In my experience, knowledge workers will often resist describing the steps they follow in their work. The more complex and knowledge-intensive the work, the more likely this will be true. Perhaps there are so many variations that describing the typical flow of work is impossible. Knowledge work also often involves a high degree of iterative collaboration among knowledge workers, and this may be difficult to describe or model.

Even if you can get a knowledge worker to describe his or her work process, it may not be a very helpful description. First, the work flow may not be very similar to another worker's description of the supposedly same process.

Secondly, the steps may seem maddeningly inefficient: "First I come up with an idea. Then I think about it for a while. Then I talk to my lab partner about it. Then I think about the reactions she's given me." Such a process would be anathema to a stopwatch-packing Taylorist, but it's often how knowledge workers - particularly those involved in knowledge creation activities - work.

3. "You can observe a lot by watching." (Lawrence Peter Berra)
A natural follow-on to the previous attribute of knowledge workers is that if you can't get them to describe their work in detail, you have to observe it in detail. Systematic observation - also known as "shadowing" or "ethnography" - is often a way to better understand how knowledge workers do their work.

4. Knowledge workers usually have good reasons for doing what they do.
In the days of business process reengineering, we assumed that smart analysts could quickly figure out better ways of doing work. This was, in fact, often true. Nobody had ever thought about many administrative and operational processes before, and improvements were easily identified.

It's not so easy with knowledge work, which is one of the reasons why we have to observe it closely. Knowledge workers have typically thought about why and how they do their work, and have made many of the obvious improvements to it. There is probably a reason behind almost everything they undertake (or at minimum a logical rationalization).

If improvements are going to be identified, it's probably only after serious and deep study.

5. Commitment matters.
In the industrial economy, one could do a job with one's body even when the brain and heart weren't committed to the job.

But this isn't the case for knowledge work. It's unlikely that you'll get great performance out of a knowledge worker if he or she isn't mentally and emotionally committed to the job.

This fact has a number of ramifications. Chief among them is that knowledge workers need some say in what they work on and how they do it.

There is nothing that limits commitment like being told what to work on by someone else. This factor is behind, for example, the famous 3M approach of giving researchers 15% of their time to work on something they think is important to the company.

Obviously knowledge workers are generally willing to do some things that others ask (or even tell) them to do, but a degree of voluntarism helps a lot.

6. Knowledge workers value their knowledge, and don't share it easily.
Knowledge is all that knowledge workers have - it's the tool of their trade, the means of their production.

It's therefore natural that they would have difficulty relinquishing or sharing it in such a way that their own jobs might be threatened.

In the early days of knowledge management, when companies were beginning to talk about sharing knowledge within and across organizations, I used to say, "Sharing knowledge is an unnatural act."

I also mentioned that, "Of course, unnatural acts are committed every day."

Companies just needed to put the necessary incentives and assurances in place to ensure that people were willing to share their knowledge.

But that's the subject of another post, or you could read my book.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 04:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)