KM Singapore 2011: Riding the Wave of Experience

KM Singapore 2011: Riding the Wave of Experience

by Madanmohan Rao

Editor, The KM Chronicles

Singapore; September 1-2, 2011

The eighth KM Singapore conference, one of my favourite annual KM events, kicked off this September with the theme “Riding the Wave of Experience” ( (See my earlier articles from KM Singapore 2010 and 2009: 

Organised by the Information & Knowledge Management Society (, the conference this year extended to two days (with a pre-conference masterclass as well). In addition to the morning keynote sessions, there were very useful parallel sessions in the afternoon on case clinics (eg. change management, conversations, cloud computing, records management, Intranet design, social media), case studies (eg. public sector CoPs, British Council, HK Polytechnic, IPOS, MoM, Temasek Polytechnic) and peer assists (eg. discovery in a complex information environment).

An interesting format at the conference was a pause after each keynote to let delegates discuss the issues at each of their tables. A useful suggestion would be to get each table to then present three problems/counterpoints with the speaker’s presentation! But that is getting ahead of the story a little bit.

Here are my Top Twelve Takeaways from the KM Singapore 2011 conference; am sure  there are more than a dozen other highlights from the various blogposts and videos (see more links from the conference Web site)!

KM as a field is still evolving

Due to its diverse inter-disciplinary nature, KM as a field continues to evolve in different directions. “KM is still an ‘immature’ profession, we are from different fields,” explained Patrick Lambe, founder of Straits Consulting. Sometimes people feel pulled in different directions and can even burn out after a few years. “A round of applause for all those who have been in KM for more than two years,” Lambe joked!

Perspectives at KM Singapore 2011 came from a wide range of disciplines and organisational functions, clearly evident from this stack of business cards in front of me: organisational development, educational technology, leadership development, information policy, competency development, information design, strategic planning, systems integration, knowledge resources, cognitive studies, operational planning, organisational excellence!

KM skills needed today in the industry include information searching, socialising (dialogue, interviews), and cognitive abilities (reflective, learning), according to R. Gopinathan (“Gopi”) from Civil Services College. Of these, socialising skills are hard to build via training, since they draw on in-built personality traits, said Gopi. KM practitioners should develop networking and trust skills; they should cultivate a curiousity about other people’s problems, and share their answers, advised Lambe.

Asia as a Knowledge Hub

A number of global organisations have chosen Asia as a hub for their information and knowledge activities. This ranges from back-end KM content support to full-fledged R&D labs. For instance, the British Council in Asia has 12 regional knowledge champions, and Delhi/Noida is a major hub of their activities.

Effective KM at a global level calls for good technology, knowledge sharing culture, and stories to capture insights, according to Shanti Chandrasekar, Information & Resources Manager, Knowledge Champion, British Council Singapore. “Our global hub for financial and IT activities is in India,” said Pauline Chuah, Regional Information Policy Advisor, British Council. “We operate in multiple regulatory environments and need compliance in data sharing. We are sharing knowledge between South and Southeast Asia,” she said.

Metaphors for Knowledge and KM

As usual, a range of metaphors was used to characterise knowledge and KM, in addition to the usual ‘stocks and flows’ descriptions. Earlier metaphors I’ve come across compare knowledge to gold (“mining”), water (“wells” and “taps”) and even milk (“finite shelf life!”). “Not all knowledge is equally valuable; some knowledge withers and dies like flowers,” said Bill Proudfit from Hong Kong.

KM and the Pace of Change

The rapid pace of globalisation and political/economic swings means that a key objective of KM has become sense-making: how to gather comprehensive intelligence and actionable insights about the outside world, share internal innovations with outside stakeholders, and shape dialogues about organisational strategies. If an organisation’s learning rate and response cycle cannot help it keep up with the rate of external change, then the organisation will eventually run into trouble. Only 30% of organisations succeed in change initiatives, according to Michelle Lambert, Facilitator, KM Roundtable, Australia.

Storytelling Frameworks

A number of frameworks for knowledge sharing via effective organisational storytelling are emerging. The key to get people to talk meaningfully is content, collaboration and verbalisation, according to Karuna Ramanathan, deputy head of leadership development at Singapore Armed Forces. He offered a range of useful frameworks in this regard: POST (point, opinion, see, think) and STOP (see, think, opinion, point) as mental models for questioning assumptions.

“Creating of knowledge is driven by our vision of ourselves, and our relation to the organisation,” he said. True learning comes from being emotively engaged, especially through experiences and anecdotes (“episodic memory”). A useful tip for creating conversation is to show a provocative video, then start diving down to the heart of the subject.

Social Media Enriches and Extends Conversations

Social media are a terrific platform for sharing knowledge during events; see my earlier checklist on ‘Knowledge Sharing at Events: Top Fifteen Twitter Tips” 

Free social media tools readily downloadable from the Web have made it amazingly easy to do realtime and global knowledge sharing from events, according to Pier Andrea Pirani, co-director at Euforic Services. Event organisers should rope in volunteers (eg interns) to do live blogging, tweeting, video interviews and editing.

Video interviews of varying lengths with speakers and delegates can be posted on the conference site and cross-linked to other content, thus opening up multiple channels of extended knowledge. Tools such as YouTube, SlideShare, BlipTV, Flickr and Picasa are useful in this regard.

A range of interesting formats/designs is emerging for Twitterwalls during conferences.

“I use Blips (90-second recordings) rather than interviews for quick video updates/briefs during conferences. Different social media tools are suited for different personalities; I am more of a Wiki guy than a Twitter guy,” Pier joked.

It is important to do social reporting planning, involving resources at the event as well as subject experts to proof-read and validate blogs. It is important also to create independent archives of the material since sites like Twitter do not archive hashtag tweets for long.

Interesting social reporting trends are the rise of livecasting, more embedding of social media tools in workflow, and greater use of social media by development agencies. UK’s Overseas Development Institute ( uses live streaming and has its own Twitter channel.

For internal activities, reporting via social media produces an instant set of meeting minutes blended with individual perspectives.

KM Foundations: Communities of Practice

Classic KM approaches such as communities of practice have reached the next level thanks to new interaction methods, social media and inter-organisational initiatives. These KM sharing techniques include world café and fishbowl (experts in inner circle, observers in outer circle, novices in between). The Method Cards approach can also be used in a range of KM activities right from the knowledge audit stage; they help focus on the criticality and uniqueness of organisational knowledge and culture, using fun/pictorial cards.

“CoPs are more art than science. Don’t treat them just as a task force,” advised R. Gopinathan (“Gopi”) from Civil Services College. Sponsorship and support are important, especially for cross-organisational CoPs.

“Always keep time for reflection, think beyond execution. Don’t measure too often but set up a rhythm for the CoPs. Use quantitative and qualitative indicators,” advised Gopi. CoPs need to balance online and offline interactions; face-to-face connections help build trust, respect and comfort, and online interactions leave a useful knowledge trail. CoPs should be embedded with core work where possible. “Do not institutionalise a CoP but institutionalise its existence. Do not put hard KPIs and timelines,” advised Gopi. Well-run CoPs bring strategic capability to an organisation.

A number of Singapore government agencies and public sector organisations have successful CoPs (eg. MINDEF, MOE, AVA, MAS, MOM, SubCourt, National Parks, SG Poly, HPB). Some inter-organisational CoPs have also been launched (eg. OD, smart regulation, learning design, international relations, HR, IP) and others are in initial stages of design (eg. e-government, best sourcing, grant management, economic regulation).

KM and Knowledge Retention

Stemming attrition risks, knowledge retention, and succession planning are useful impact areas for KM practices. Aw Siew Hoong (“Ash”), Knowledge Advisor, Shell Global Solutions, presented an update of their approach to knowledge retention. The Society of Petroleum Engineers published an article in 2004 called “Big Crew Change” about the knowledge retention challenge due to a retirement wave. Shell came up with a Retiree Network, established the “Chief Scientist” position, and increased job tenures for knowledge retention. Shell also developed a well-branded programme called Retention of Critical Knowledge (ROCK), with interesting variants: ROCK Classic (started in 2005, for retirees), ROCK Lite (launched in 2006, for transferred staff), ROCK X (started in 2007, for newly hired experienced staff), and ROCK Live (for high profile employees).

First, assess the longevity of knowledge, criticality, exposure in the organisation, and participation of successors. In scoping interviews, do not go into details, leave that for the in-depth interview. For an in-depth interview, you should show the expert what you are capturing and ask for confirmation; support this with mindmapping tools. ROCK works better if the successor is already identified, advised Ash. 

“Recording of the expert interview is not a court transcript, and the interview is more of a peer conversation, not an interrogation,” Ash explained. “ROCK is not about sucking out all the expert’s knowledge, but only what is needed for specific tasks and organisational mission,” Ash cautioned.

ROCK facilitators should learn better techniques for dialogue and knowledge elicitation, Ash advised. ROCK should be part of the off-boarding process (run by HR) and should be used in the Lessons Learned database. New techniques such as Causal Learning interview should be tried. ROCK should be part of a larger programme, and not stand-alone (a 10 hour interview is not enough to capture useful learnings from a 30-year career).

It is important not to just ‘dump’ the interview archives on the Intranet, but condense it into modules of different granularity, index the script, and tag the content. These assets should then be marketed effectively in the organisation, otherwise they will not be re-used.

Shell also has its own internal video channel called ShellTube. There is already anecdotal evidence that the ROCK initiative is having a good impact; an expert shared one of his formulas in a ROCK conference and people liked it so much that they said it should become standard operating procedure.

One of the success factors for Shell’s ROCK strategy is that being asked for an interview is seen as a badge of honour, a symbol of prestige. Doing exit interviews has to be driven by business case and the company’s culture must value such knowledge.

(Paolina Martin of Singapore Management University threw in an interesting question here: How do we distinguish expert knowledge from long-held assumptions that may no longer hold true?)

Organisational Knowledge Tyrannies

People are smart and they can scale up their knowledge and skills by forming organisations – yet, many organisations tend to become ‘stupid’ or develop fatal organisational blindspots and exhibit dysfunctional behaviours (eg. IBM and HP at various points in their histories). Collective knowledge does not always seem to work, and KM professionals are well advised to be aware of typical knowledge ‘tyrannies.’

These were well presented by Patrick Lambe, Founding Partner, Straits Knowledge, in a provocative presentation titled “Smart People, Stupid Organisations.” Individual ignorance can be due to denial, inexperience, uncertainty or deception – whereas socially produced ignorance is caused by structural secrecy, structural forgetfulness, and structural inattention. These are well illustrated by NASA’s behaviours leading to the shuttle disasters.

Lambe presented five “Tyrannies of Collectives” – tyrannies of Role (inability to think of new product roles and price points, eg. print Encyclopedia Britannica), Plan (over-commitment to earlier expensive plans), Infrastructure (industry inertia in earlier infrastructure, eg. US tyre manufacturers in pre-radial tyre era), Culture (looking inwards and not outwards, eg. IBM in the mainframe era), and Feast (eg. stock market crashes: inability to break the bubble).

Cultures grow unconsciously, and build thinking patterns for us. Culture gives us tools, values, and mental models. These affect organisations and societies; for example, it has become hard for New York Jews to criticise Israel, according to Lambe. The current Singapore government has problems because it is communicating only rationally, and not at the level of people’s emotions. 

The mob or feast mentality, along with fear of dissent and its consequences, prevents individuals from showing any signs of disapproval. “But we become more intolerant of problems beyond certain predictable thresholds,” said Lambe, showing a graph of outbreaks of anti-government violence mapped with rising food price index in some Middle East and African countries.

KM fails if the infrastructure does enable people to think or work on auto-pilot. Lamble cited Alfred Whitehead (1911) who said civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking about them.

It is therefore important for KM professionals and organisational experts to learn the grammars of collective behaviour, advised Lambe. Assumptions about collectives may not always hold true individually. He cited the Abilene Paradox, where mutual ignorance leads people to do things collectively which they did not want to do individually.

This session raised a number of provocative questions. Innovations happen faster when big organisations die. Can big organisations become more innovative via open networks, or are there limits to changing momentum and attitudes? Individuals should make friends inside and outside of the organisation to respond better to the tyrannies in organisations, Lambe advised.

Organisational Knowledge Traps

Gary Klein, author of Sources of Power and Intuition at Work, presented seven cognitive traps in KM practices: feeding frenzy, inappropriate metaphors, dance of details, mining, reliance on words, thrill of hunt, and myth of control. 

He offered the following principles for positive KM design: help users achieve higher skill levels, make the system more enjoyable, and make users more effective.

“Use action learning as a complement to formal training. This helps in becoming a reflective practitioner,” advised Klein. He cited seven ways of improving “action learning” activities: estimating, experimenting, extrapolating, explaining, examining, exchanging, and expert coaching. Extrapolating is about envisioning surprises and failures, which lead to reflection and richer mental models. Experimenting involves trying out new ways, trial and error, piloting, testing hypotheses, and attaining a stretch goal.

The Myth of Control assumes that plans/structures will operate as designed; but this works only in well-ordered situations. In The Thrill of the Hunt, all energy goes into gathering knowledge, not packaging it.  KM practitioners should focus not just on creating knowledge assets but marketing them and training people how to re-design their work around these assets.

Stories, pictures and animations can be used to elicit mental models in addition to straightforward inquiry; these are all ways of anchoring meanings. “Using only words to do KM can lead to common ground breakdowns. Words can be slippery; people end up talking about different things yet believing they are talking about the same thing,” cautioned Klein. Cognitive Task Analysis involves knowledge elicitation (via interviews/observations) for concept maps and critical decision methods.

In the Strip-Mining trap, the focus is on explicit rather than implicit knowledge. In the Details trap, there is lack of balance between coarseness and precision. Knowledge is dynamic, it has context, and cannot be reduced to ‘lumps.’ Categories of knowledge also change over time.

“People take 10,000 hours to become an expert. We don’t have that amount of time in this day and age. Organisations need to move people quickly up the skill curve,” said Klein. But the Feeding Frenzy trap occurs when experts leave, and there is a rush to capture all their knowledge rather than focusing on what is really needed for the organisation.

It is important to interview experts in a manner that encourages them to explore their own thinking. Klein narrated an incident of an expert being interviewed and then commenting that “he heard himself explaining things that he never did before.” A good interview is good not just for organisational employees but also good for experts themselves.

There are challenges, however, in storytelling. “It is hard to tell a story. Sometimes it becomes a chronology, or does not lead to an insight,” said Klein. Some people do not speak freely if they see voice/video recorders. It is time consuming for editors also, and many tapes never get seen again.

In groupthink, people may have differing opinions but do not voice them, they stick to the consensus. Technology may be a way around some of these groupthink problems, eg. Twitterwall – where people in the room and around the world articulate their differences over the conversational topic.

Human Development: Knowledge Sharing for Global Stakeholders

Roxanna Samii from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) took the discussion to a global level with her wide-ranging presentation on “Social Media: Development Workers’ Best Ally.”

“As an Iranian, I feel the excitement of Asia,” she began. She appreciated the Twitterwall at the KM Singapore as way of sharing conference insights with a global audience and stimulating conversations. (Interestingly, my friend Colin Miles was also sharing some of these conference tweets with another parallel conference in Singapore: Social Media Forum Asia!)

IFAD is using social media to raise awareness about agriculture and the role of smallholder producers in feeding future generations. A new expert world is available thanks to Twitter. ”The UN system is finding it hard to raise funds. We use social media to raise awareness, amplify our messages, and come out of silos. The pillars of social media — community, collaboration, contribution – contribute to an Open Social Network for knowledge sharing,” she said.

There are wider impacts also of social media. “Look at how social media has facilitated the Arab Spring, and its effect on my country Iran,” said Samii. Twitter was abuzz with news about the famine in the Horn of Africa even before the UN and CNN covered it. The head of IFAD, a Nigerian, also tweeted that African governments had to get their act together to prevent famine.

“Social media have consistently covered development issues and raised awareness. It helps IFAD listen to donors and recipients,” said Samii. However, organisations should have an open culture to let employees tweet. “That is why trust is so important in social media. Organisations need to come up with guidelines for appropriate social media usage,” Samii advised.

“Reciprocity is key for social media success. It also creates a sense of excitement in how new media can help humanitarian causes. More precisely, Web analytics show where followers are coming from, and which of our links are interesting,” Samii explained. Rather than ‘store and forget’ as in some existing enterprise portals, social media narratives help engage participants, develop empathy, share and correct facts, and build a vibrant community.

“Social empathy is important, not propaganda. We use Facebook as a channel to reach younger generations and answer all questions we get. Younger generations are future policymakers, we need to engage them with positive messages and attitudes right now via social media,” urged Samii.

“We have a social reporting blog, and listen to social media chatter. Our blogs are written from the heart,” she said. IFAD posts project documentaries and public service announcements on YouTube and tweets the links.

“Social reporting is a mix of journalism, facilitation and social media. Internally, we noticed that Yammer opens up dialogue between some people who would normally not talk to each other,” said Samii. IFAD used social media during the launch of its Rural Poverty Report. “We reached half a million people – this was unprecedented for any of our reports. Social media led to surge in requests for the Report, more than from the Web site. We also hosted a Web chat with the author,” she added. IFAD also used social media to build up the launch of its Environment and Natural Resource Management report.

Social media opportunities lie in crowdsourcing, reaching out to future policymakers, and forging new partnerships. Challenges in social media reporting include resources, systematic monitoring, and multilingualism, said Samii. “Seeing is believing; you need to set up situations where your management leaders see and taste the benefits of social media and train them to use it themselves,” she advised.

“We are funded by taxpayer money. Social media helps transparency and openness,” she added. She also shared her 10 commandments of social media: Get connected with everyone. Be creative. Explore social media. Set Alerts. Upload. Create profiles. Blog. Podcast. Comment.

“Social media are a new philosophy, a whole new way of living. Embrace it!” Samii concluded.

Intranets and Beyond: IT Tools for KM

Two presentations brought the discussion back to the core IT platforms for KM: Intranets. Winner attributes of Intranet design for Explicit Knowledge include great usability and making content social. Winner attributes of Intranet design for Implicit Knowledge are: connecting people, making the frontline work, and creating social organisations.

There are three life stages for Intranets: ad hoc (organic), useful (taken for granted), and essential (support core business), according to James Robertson, Managing Director, Step Two Designs, Australia. Success measures differ by stage of evolution of the Intranet: ad hoc (adoption), useful (usage), essential (impacts, metrics).

KM should draw on disciplines like usability, eg. tree testing. Some KM projects have a history of producing white elephants; technology has not always worked well, said Robertson. A Social Intranet is deigned and works “with you” not just “for you,” he advised.

A prerequisite of knowledge sharing is awareness about who may know what. Tools should help you visualise activity streams and tap the stocks and flows of knowledge. “The small things are the successful things on Intranets, not the big fancy tech stuff. Look at the small opportunities,” he advised.

Robertson drew heavily on examples from the 2010 Intranet award winners: British American Tobacco, Bennet Jones, UK Parliament, CRS Australia, AMP, and Oxfam America (“social Intranet”).

Ace design firm IDEO’s Intranet has people at the centre, not content. Lundbeck connects its staff directory to LinkedIn and builds expertise profiles internally and externally. ScotTrade uses a MediaWiki.

American Power saved $8 million a month through innovations on its Intranet. Sabre Holdings reported that 60% of its posted queries were answered within one hour, with 8 answers per question. British Airways used YouTube to solve frontline problems (eg. sticky icecubes).

Maish Nichani, Founding Partner, PebbleRoad, presented key problems with “Iceberg Intranet Projects,” i.e. many Intranet projects overlook key factors such as mindset, leadership, governance, adoption. There is no real ‘end’ to an Intranet project but a continual loops of improvements.

Change in culture and tool usage is hard since people are creatures of habit. Without empathy and knowledge about one’s colleagues it is hard to fuel knowledge sharing. He used interesting descriptions of KM professionals, activities and places, eg. Men in Black, Genuis Bar, Demo Pit! As a tool, GoogleWave was fascinating from a technology point of view but it was hard to figure out the personal and business use of it. 

Over and above the Intranet, knowledge workers need personalised learning environments, according to professor Eric Tsui from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who presented examples from courses at his institution.


Surfboard: Cited URLs

Background paper on organisational ‘tyrannies’ 

Cloud computing: 

CoPs in US government agencies 

Diane Vaughan: “The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA” 

EDGE interview with Gary Klein

Global AgriKnowledge Share Fair

IFAD blogs:

IFAD social media guidelines:

IKMS KM Competencies framework/booklet 

Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Best Intranets of 2011

John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid: “The Social Life of Information” 

Knowledge Sharing at Events: Top Fifteen Twitter Tips:

Mary Douglas: “How Institutions Think”

Nielsen Norman Group’s 2011 Intranet Design Awards 

2010 Intranet award winners:

Personal Learning Environments (Eric Tsui):

Social media communities 

Social Media Forum Asia:

Social media policy: Department of Justice, Victoria, Australia

Social media: Best ally for development workers (Roxanna Samii)

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble: “The Other Side of Innovation”


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