KM Asia 2010: Top 15 Takeaways

KM Asia 2010: Top 15 Takeaways


by Madanmohan Rao

Editor, The KM Chronicles (


The first KM Asia conference I attended was in 2002, and I have been a regular ever since! The event this year in Singapore as usual drew lots of speakers and delegates from many parts of Asia and Europe, but I would have liked to see some from Japan, China and Korea as well.


Here are my Top 15 takeaways from the speakers and discussions at KM Asia 2010:

1. Theories and models of knowledge in organisations

The field of KM continues to draw from other disciplines ranging from quantum science to cognitive theory, and theoretical models of knowledge in organisations will remain a promising area of research. For instance, Ron Young, Chief Knowledge Officer from Knowledge Associates in the UK, likened the duality between tacit and explicit knowledge to the duality between matter and energy in quantum science. Dave Snowden, Founder & Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge, drew extensively on recent studies in cognitive complexity and also extrapolated from earlier economic and business theories based on the scientific paradigm and systems dynamics.


2. Balance I: Structure v/s Flexibility

Business process models from manufacturing will not easily apply to sectors like services, cautioned Snowden. Six Sigma (‘Sick Stigma!’) was eventually abandoned by companies such as 3M because it destroyed its innovation abilities. In the arena of tools, some enterprise-grade tools may be overly structured and unable to deal with the more nimble requirements of workspace redesign. The ‘recipe’ approach to business tasks may be suitable in early stages, but successful managers will also need to be able to operate like ‘chefs’ in the absence of some ingredients for market success.


3. Balance II: Job rotation v/s Continuity


True business leadership requires knowledge and skills across a wide range of organisational roles. This has been achieved effectively in Japanese organisations via job rotation and requirements of proficiency in each role, but at the same time there should be appropriate mechanisms for knowledge transfer during such switches. It takes two to three years for the human brain to structure itself around a task, according to Snowden.


4. Balance III: Robustness v/s Resilience


Organisations must be built to be robust, i.e. they should have well-thought out plans for backups, alternatives and other contingencies. But their KM practices should not lead to organisational rigidities. They should be resilient and be able to bounce back with sound courses of action even during completely unanticipated scenarios.


5. East + West: A Call for Collaboration


Ron Young called for a collaboration between Asian and Western thinking in the area of KM, ‘the need of the hour.’ Drawing on philosophical roots, Snowden acknowledged that there are attributes of Hinduism and Taosim in the realm of causality and nature that do not exist in common Western thinking, and a blend of both approaches is called for. I would suggest that Asian KM thought leaders dig into their traditional folk and scholarly wisdom and also look at ‘fusion’ models which they seem to have internalised but can be made more explicit. Vadim Shiryaeva, president of the consultancy network KM Russia, also urged the audience to participate in expanding KM practices in Russia! Naguib Chowdhury of the Islamic Development Bank also stressed how the Islamic world should move ahead and regain some of its earlier glories in innovation and creativity on a fundamental and global scale. Each individual is a think-tank, according to IDB.


6. The World Wide Web = Mind Machine Matrix


Snowden and Young highlighted the Web and social media as examples of cognitive augmentation and distributed cognition on a global scale. I recall a conversation I had years ago with Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, when I remarked to him that the letters WWW reflected in a mirror can appear as MMM, and that could mean Mind Machine Matrix, something we very much live in!


7. The importance of apprenticeship and mentoring


A number of case studies discussed at KM Asia reaffirm the importance of mentoring and apprenticeship in preservation of tacit knowledge, eg. Linklaters, Attorney General’s Chambers. The apprentice model is the best knowledge transfer method humans have devised, according to Snowden.


8. Design for serendipity


Knowledge should be accessible not just for those who are looking for it, but also occur or emerge to employees in unexpected ways. This requires a conscious effort by organisations to ensure a certain flexibility and connectedness in knowledge workflows so that such serendipitous emergence of knowledge can be possible.


9. Branding of KM initiatives should be participatory


Case studies of KM in organisations ranging from IDB and AGC to IPOS and MoF show that KM initiatives should be branded in a manner which is participatory. Getting wide-spread involvement in designing KM portal logos and choosing names for KM tools via organisation-wide competitions and awards helps increase awareness about KM and create a sense of ownership in KM initiatives, as compared to a top-down selection of names by management committees.


10. National and regional cultures affect knowledge behaviours


Some of the discussion at the conference revealed interesting observations about knowledge behaviour differences across Asia, eg. Indians may be more â’argumentative,’ Southeast Asians may heed more ‘save face’ considerations, and Japan and South Korea have very strong knowledge exchange and validation activities after office hours over rounds of drinking! This is an area ripe for further research. Abdul Nasir Abdul Razuk, General Manager, Planning & Development Department, Malaysia Airport Holding, gave some delightful examples of how their KM initiatives have been localised by including Malaysian passion for food, eg. in design of the canteen to facilitate knowledge sharing areas.


11. Enterprise Social Media


Large enterprises are slowly moving with the social media wave. For instance, Shell took a couple of years to embrace and adopt the Wiki model of Intranet collaboration. Wikis occupy the ‘middle ground between a Web site and a document management system,’ according to Siew Hoong Aw, Knowledge Management Advisor, Shell Global Solutions. Challenges remain in dealing with expired content, developing content policy for information such as news, and competing tools.


12. Social media lubricate communities of practice


You no longer need to require all CoP members to be good writers and communicators to create an effective online community. Social bookmarking and community voting aspects of social media can “decrease the cost and effort” of participating in CoPs, advised Olivier Amprimo, Assistant Director, Digital Resources and Services, National Library Board.


13. Deadlines as Drivers


Doreen Tan of the Singapore Youth Olympics Organising Committee showed how tight external deadlines can help create a sense of urgency and foster tighter cooperation and more rapid knowledge sharing behaviours, while also diminishing the need for expensive enterprise IT tools! (Case studies in the KM literature have also covered usage of external deadlines and competitive pressures as a KM driver in Korean companies.)


14. Self-Organisation: Accelerating the Knowledge Movement


KM as an industry and practice can be successfully advanced in cities and countries around the world if KM professionals take it upon themselves to self-organise regular meet-ups, national conferences and awards. Good examples include the monthly Bangalore K-Community meet-ups and CII’s KM India conference, as well as IKMS in Singapore (whose annual KM Excellence Awards form the basis of the case studies for my next KM book!). There is also a KM Thailand conference, it would be great to see such peer communities and events across Asia and around the world.


15. Capacity Building: Specialisation and Diversification


KM is becoming an increasingly broad-based as well as specialised activity, well reflected in the numerous designations I see in the big stack of business cards in front of me: Knowledge Manager, Knowledge Principal, Knowledge Management Executive, Head of Knowledge, Innovation Manager, Innovation Facilitator, Manager of Human Capital Development Centre, Project Manager for Knowledge Management, Knowledge Asset Manager, Knowledge Librarian, Director of Learning and Management Development, and Knowledge Engineer!


(Designations I noticed from the attendees of KM Asia 2009 include: Chief Knowledge Officer, Regional Knowledge Manager, Principal Knowledge Management Specialist, Knowledge Development Officer, Knowledge Process Analyst, Knowledge Services Analyst, Knowledge Architect, Knowledge Supervisor, and Manager of Knowledge Sharing!)


//Next week: my blogposts from KM India ( in Bangalore! //



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