30 November 2006

Personal Knowledge Management

Yesterday, I attended a Knowledge Café in London arranged by David Gurteen ( ). The guest key-note speaker was Dave Pollard ( ) and the topic: Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).

Very simply put, PKM differentiates itself from “classic” KM as follows:
Collection => Connection
Content => Context

PKM states that we should instigate better knowledge sharing with a bottom-up approach rather than the more classic KM top-down implementations. The basic idea is to send Information Professionals (IP) on “the field” to help/teach individuals with one-on-one sessions to be more knowledge efficient and effective. The IP would also in the process gather a lot of useful information about what technology employees really need to do their job better and to add more value.

Of course, one-on-one sessions with everyone in an organization can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Dave Pollard says that there can be ways to do this “economically” but the key is to convince top-executives that the increased efficiency and effectiveness more than cover for the costs. I believe this is indeed the main challenge of PKM. In fact, for a KM Professional, PKM does not resolve the key problem: getting board-level support to invest in knowledge leveraging initiatives. It might even make matters worse by not relying on an idealistic target state. It is harder to justify a multitude of “fuzzier” individualized initiatives (bottom-up) rather than a few collective ones with clear objectives (top-down).

I do see a lot of benefits with PKM but I would intuitively believe that in many organizations, a more appropriate approach would be a mixture of “classic” KM and PKM. The latter implemented to support and sustain the initiatives of the former. I really do not see PKM succeeding on its own in an organization where knowledge-sharing is not part of the culture. I don’t see it as the magic bullet in such a context.

One issue we chose to address at my table during this event was the fear that top-management usually has with wide-spread relatively uncontrolled knowledge sharing: the risk of some very valuable information falling into the wrong hands. A very pertinent approach was suggested to me: we first need to define exactly what type of knowledge is critically valuable to the organization, what makes it really competitively different. It is then this knowledge that would be kept secure. The rest can be left to be shared to add value and foster creativity and innovation. I am not saying this would be easy but it does make a lot of sense.

Peter-Anthony Glick


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