KM Asia 2009: Energising Knowledge and Evolving KM

KM Asia 2009: Energising Knowledge and Evolving KM


by Madanmohan Rao

Editor, The KM Chronicles



KM Asia 2009 wrapped up today in Singapore, with some useful insights into reinterpreting knowledge and KM maturity (see my earliest coverage of KM Asia 2002 at


David Snowden began by challenging some KM myths and identifying overlooked behavioural aspects of knowledge activities. David has keynoted every major KM conference I have attended over the last several years (in Singapore, India, Australia, US, Europe). In the earlier days of KM there were many heavyhitting keynoters – now there seems to be only David Snowden as a major thoughtleader! He joked that perhaps he keeps getting invited again and again so that he can “get it right this time!” I told David that a KM book by him is long overdue, considering that most other KM heavyweights have all published a number of books (though David is quite prolific with blogs, tweets, podcasts).


The two key issues facing knowledge managers these days, according to David, are how to work across silos, and how to create a knowledge-sharing culture. He pointed out that Nonaka’s knowledge spiral model led many knowledge managers to erroneously believe that a key aim of KM was to make implicit knowledge explicit. But actually explicit knowledge can never exist without tacit roots. “A wholly explicit knowledge is unthinkable,” according to Polanyi; Nonaka should have read Polanyi, remarked David.


It is important to focus not just on knowledge stocks but knowledge flows, advised David, since human knowledge is inherently messy (and process people find it hard to deal with this!). Knowledge managers need to think of themselves as ecologists, not just as engineers. Ethics in KM is a two-way street — if people are treated as a commodity then trust is destroyed and they may feel their knowledge is being abused.


Knowledge sharing is a gift and not just a ritual or transaction, and needs to be approached in a different way from the point of view of anthropology. Human knowledge is contextual, it is only when you are asked a question that you know what you know. The size of teams affects knowledge dynamics. There are natural physiological limits to knowledge sharing groups, you cannot just throw everyone into a CoP, cautioned David. A big mistake people make is not to understand scale in communications activities and groups.


The “knowledge as stocks” model has faced challenges in particular during exit interviews when employees leave the organisation or transfer to another role, observed Siew Hoong Aw (“Ash”) of Shell, speaking on the oil company’s BedROCK for Knowledge Retention.


“You cannot replace knowledge with automation systems,” said Ash. The company has a facilitated interview model, called ROCK (retention of critical knowledge), with funky variations like Classic ROCK (for selected qualified retirees), ROCK Lite (a simplified form, targeted at job transferees across departments) and ROCK X (for newly hired experts)!


Key success factors for such interviews include choice of a good facilitator (a journalism background helps), focusing on logic and not just checklists, use of tools like mindmapping, and involvement of successors and other experts in the interview process.


(My first KM book, “Leading with Knowledge” ( has a case study from MITRE about their Knowledge Partners initiative for retirees, where retired employees are invited to participate in discussions and forums on a regular basis.)


Patrick Lambe of Straits Consulting advised KM practitioners to not ignore theory; KM is more than just portfolios and checklists, and involves deep approaches to philosophy and praxis.


While much KM activity tends to focus on office-based white-collar workers, KM should also extend to blue-collar and semi-educated workers. For instance, EurekaForbes employs thousands of door-to-door salespeople who may not have the best education and whose role keeps them in the field most days of the week – hence SMS is used as a way to keep them in the knowledge loop with company updates and even motivational quotes. The company, a multiple MAKE award winner, draws heavily on sporting metaphors for its KM activities, such as EuroOlympics, EuroChamps, cricket tournaments and even climbing Mt. Everest.


Luke Naismith urged knowledge managers to think of knowledge not just as stocks and flows but also as energy which drives the success of individuals, organisations and societies. Luke’s work has involved public policy aspects of KM for Australia and Dubai. At a societal level, the Arab Knowledge Report identifies knowledge as a service for development.


Drawing on Einstein’s famous e=mc2 equation, he said KM involves meaning, communication and content. “Knowledge shared is knowledge squared,” he said. Organisations should be structured more like a holarchy in this regard. Luke’s presentation was peppered with alliterations, including the “eyes and Is” of knowledge: intellect, instinct, imagination, intuition, insight, ignorance.


Mary Papachristos from the Water Corporation in Australia extended the focus on organisational KM to inter-organisational KM and the importance of plugging into external and international knowledge flows.


As in the case of Shell, the Water Corporation also realised that it faced a “demographic cliff” with a number of retirements coming up, leading to talent shortages. The company re-branded its work as focusing on high-tech environmentally-critical activities and not just “working on dirty water,” so as to attract smarter people in the long run.


For an international conference, there was unfortunately very little discussion on cultural differences across Asia and how they may affect knowledge sharing activities. One Malaysian did ask about Australian cultural traits, and the Australians in the audience joked that they liked meeting up and yakking over beers, which can help air out a lot of issues (this can be a challenge for some cultures and religions where alcohol consumption is not encouraged).


The concluding panel focused on knowledge excellence and benchmarking, such as the KMM framework and the global/regional/national MAKE award process. Challenges arise in ensuring that benchmarks and awards truly reflect organisational excellence and have not just been gamed, observed Patrick Lambe.


A number of regional KM forums also enable knowledge sharing among KM professionals, such as the Bangalore K-Community ( that meets on the third Wednesday of every month.


Over the years, KM has shifted focus from content to community, from information to conversation; speakers identified a number of future KM trends: more focus on social KM (Shubha Ahsraf, EurekaForbes), and the increased embedding of KM in organisational workflows (Ved Prakash, Wipro Technologies).


In sum, 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: 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 the International Conference on KM Hong Kong //



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