6th Generation Knowledge Management: Realizing the Vision in
Owen Ambur, University of Maryland University College, July 20, 1999
Prefacing his Knowledge Management Handbook, Liebowitz (1999)
poses the rhetorical question "Knowledge Management: Fact or Fiction?"
No doubt, since he and so many others are now focusing on KM, there must
be something to it. Answering his own question, he notes that the idea
is not really new but that the current "... craze ... [aims] to harness
the intellectual capital, especially the human capital [of] organizations."
However, the fact that Liebowitz leads with such a question highlights
the fuzziness of the concept. Clarity is lacking, even in the minds of
learned scholars, whose various definitions of "knowledge" include(1):
In Working Knowledge, Davenport and Prusak (1998) disclaim the ability
to provide a definitive account since "epistemologists spend their lives
trying to understand what it means to know something." However, they offer
a "working definition" that characterizes the value of knowledge as well
as what makes it difficult to manage:
... organized information applicable to problem solving. - Woolf
... information that has been organized and analyzed to make it understandable
and applicable to problem solving or decision making. - Turban
... truths and beliefs, perspectives and concepts, judgments and expectations,
methodologies and know-how. - Wiig
... sets of insights, experiences, and procedures that are considered correct
and true and therefore guide the thoughts, behaviors, and communications
of people. - van der Spek & Spijkervet
... reasoning about information and data to actively enable performance,
problem-solving, decision-making, learning, and teaching. - Beckman
Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information,
and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating
new experiences and information. It originates and is applied in the minds
of knowers. In organizations, it often becomes embedded not
only in documents or repositories but also in organizational
routines, processes, practices, and norms. (p. 5, emphasis added)
They highlight that "values and belief are integral to knowledge, determining
in large part what the knower sees, absorbs, and concludes from his observations"
and that people "see" different things based upon their values. (p. 12)
That suggests that knowledge is not necessarily based in objective reality,
and while that may certainly be true in the sense of reality in popular
culture, those grounded in the scientific method may have a problem accepting
such a relativistic definition of knowledge. The KM paradox hearkens back
to the debate in the social sciences as to whether research is, should
be, or can ever be value-free.
Many in our society value diversity and, at least in nature, there can
be little doubt that diversity is a strength in the survival of ecosystems.
On the other hand, others are far less comfortable with differences in
our own society, and many nations and cultures decidedly do not share our
openness to freedom of expression of religious, sexual, and other preferences.
The problem with including values and beliefs within the definition of
"knowledge" is that doing puts us firmly on a slippery slope toward meaninglessness
- where superstition, rumor, and innuendo are considered to be on par with
more objective, verifiable, and repeatable evidence. That is not to question
the accuracy of Davenport and Prusak's "working definition" as a reflection
of current reality, but it does suggest second thought in terms of whether
it reflects a desirable vision toward which we should strive - in our organizations
or in our society at large, within the context of an ever shrinking world
in the cyberage.
In any event, for better or worse and fuzziness aside, knowledge
clearly has something to do with organization, methodology, and guidance
that establishes the potential for effective action by people, individually
and collectively. In turn, knowledge management has been variously
Addressing The Psychology of Everyday Things, Norman (1988) noted
that knowledge may reside in two places - in the heads of people and/or
in the world. Concerning the need for precision in order to achieve effective
action, he observed (pp. 54 & 55):
... the systematic, explicit, and deliberate building, renewal, and application
of knowledge ... - Wiig
... the process of capturing a company's collective expertise wherever
it resides ... and distributing it to wherever it can help produce the
biggest payoff. - Hibbard
... getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time so
they can make the best decision. - Petrash
... systematic approaches to find, understand, and use knowledge to create
value. - O'Dell
... explicit control and management of knowledge within an organization
aimed at achieving the company's objectives. - van der Spek
... the formalization of and access to experience, knowledge, and expertise
that create new capabilities, enable superior performance, encourage innovation,
and enhance customer value. - Beckman
It is easy to show the faulty nature of human knowledge and memory...
[For example] when professional typists were given caps for typewriter
keys, they could not arrange them in proper configuration... [Yet] all
those typists could type rapidly and accurately. Why the apparent discrepancy
between the precision of behavior and the imprecision of knowledge? Because
not all of the knowledge required for precise behavior has to be in the
head. It can be distributed - partly in the head, partly in the world,
and partly in the constraints of the world. Precise behavior can emerge
from imprecise knowledge for four reasons:
Norman pointed out that natural and artificial constraints reduce the number
of alternatives in any particular situation and, thus, the amount and specificity
of knowledge required within human memory. He posited "Seven Principles
for Transforming Difficult Tasks into Simple Ones" (pp. 188 & 189):
Information is in the world. Much of the information a person needs
to do a task can reside in the world. Behavior is determined by combining
the information in memory (in the head) with that in the world.
Great precision is not required. Precision, accuracy, and completeness
of knowledge are seldom required. Perfect behavior will result if the knowledge
describes the information or behavior sufficiently to distinguish the correct
choice from all others.
Natural constraints are present. The world restricts the allowed
behavior. The physical properties of objects constrain possible operations:
the order in which parts can go together and the ways in which an object
can be moved, picked up, or otherwise manipulated. Each object has physical
features ... that limit its relationships to other objects, operations
that can be performed on it, what can be attached to it, and so on.
Cultural constraints are present. In addition to natural, physical
constraints, society has evolved numerous artificial conventions that govern
acceptable social behavior. These cultural conventions have to be learned,
but once learned they apply to a wide variety of circumstances.
In his treatise written in 1988, Norman remarked: "Standardization is simply
another aspect of cultural constraints... Today's computers are still poorly
designed, at least from the user's point of view... the technology is still
very primitive ... and there is no standardization... When we have standardization
... suddenly we will have a major breakthrough in usability."(3)
(p. 202) With reference not only to the usability but also the utility
of information technology, Davenport (1997) makes the following observations:
Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head.
Simplify the structure of tasks.
Make things visible: bridge the gulfs of Execution and Evaluation.
Get the mappings right.
Exploit the power of constraints, both natural and artificial.
Design for error.
When all else fails, standardize...
Our fascination with technology has made us forget the key purpose of information:
to inform people... Information and knowledge are quintessentially human
creations, and we will never be good at managing them unless we give people
a primary role. (p. 3)
... most managers ... who don't want to get involved in the IT "function"
... have relied on the machine-engineering model far beyond its ability
to add value. (p. 4)
However, in order to have significant value an idea - much
less a more fully developed kernel of knowledge - must be
That is, it must be made explicit - at least as a "record." if not as a
design principle embedded in a working product. To be efficiently "distributed"
and used, knowledge must be effectively documented, categorized,
and managed as a record. That may be tough to do, but it is in fact doable.
As oft said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going ... while others
merely talk, which is to say bemoan or complain, and/or withdraw from the
field of battle. As Davenport and Prusak point out: "The aim of codification
is to put organizational knowledge into a form that makes it accessible
to those who need it... Knowledge managers and users can categorize knowledge,
describe it, map and model it, stimulate it, and embed it in rules and
recipes." (p. 68)
Despite twenty years of attempts to control information by creating an
"architecture" of what is needed by whom and how they might receive it,
the centralized engineering approaches ... have often neither informed
nor improved our discussions about information needs. (p. 6)
... virtually no one feels their company has a well-managed information
environment... For years, people have referred to data and "information";
now they have to resort to the high-minded "knowledge" to discuss information
- hence, the current boom in "knowledge management." (p. 8)
... data [can be defined] as "observations of states of the world"
... Peter Drucker has eloquently defined information as "data endowed
with relevance and purpose." ... People turn data into information, and
that's what makes life difficult for information managers... Knowledge
is information with the most value and is consequently the hardest form
to manage. It is valuable precisely because somebody has given the information
context, meaning, a particular interpretation. (p. 9)
Knowledge can be embedded in machines, but it's tough to categorize
and retrieve effectively... Ideas can be distributed in the form of text,
photos, and graphics, or as audio and video recordings. An idea may constitute
one page or an entire book. It may be on paper, film, or computer. (p.
Liebowitz (pp. 1-3 & 1-4) identifies the follow dimensions
He notes that accessibility can be mapped to storage media, and that knowledge
gains value as it becomes more accessible and formal, as follows:
However, in reality, more often than not, even formal knowledge is ill-organized
and inaccessible within organizations, much less among
their partners and customers in the supply chain. Sadly, that is true even
though implicit in the notion of "knowledge management" is the fact that
knowledge must be shared among individuals working toward a common objective.(4)
And that means procedures and systems must be formalized in a fashion that
is common to the workgroup.
Tacit (human mind, organization) - accessible indirectly only with difficulty
through knowledge elicitation and observation of behavior
Implicit (human mind, organization) - accessible through querying and discussion,
but informal knowledge must first be located and then communicated
Explicit (document, computer) - readily accessible, as well as documented
into formal knowledge sources that are often well-organized
Lacking a classification system, together with an information system
in which records can readily be accessed exactly when and where needed,
exhortations about the need for more "communication" are essentially a
prescription for worsening the problems of misinformation, disinformation,
and information overload.(5) Communication
without classification inevitably increases the "noise-to-signal" ratio.
"Noise" is already bad enough when it is conveyed face-to-face, synchronously,
by word of mouth. At best, it constitutes unproven hypotheses and uninformed
questioning. Worse, in many instances it is best characterized as superstition,
rumor, innuendo. When automation is applied to increase such "communications"
asynchronously to 24 X 7 X 365, the problem is more than irritating; it
becomes intolerable. It confuses individuals, paralyzes systems, and can
cripple organizations.(6) As Liebowitz (p.
iv) says, "Many organizations are drowning in information but starving
for knowledge." Davenport suggests:
[The information ecology] approach puts humans back at the center of
the information world, banishing technology to its rightful place on the
periphery. It places primary emphasis not on generation and distribution
of reams of information, but rather on the effective use of a relatively
smaller amount... In short, ecological approaches to information management
are more modest, behavioral, and practical than the grand designs of information
architecture and machine engineering.(7)
That is a nice thought and it is certainly worthy of some amount of effort
to shape the culture of our companies and communities, including the world
wide community of the Net. However, it should be noted that technology
is an important driver of cultural change, and getting the technology right
may be one of the most important ways to facilitate cultural improvement.
Indeed, as Davenport says: "It's a business truism that firms must achieve
some level of 'fit' or congruence with their external environments - a
truism that applies to a company's information environment as much as to
anything else." (p. 193)
Davenport and Prusak expand on that thought by observing that many firms
have recently "... come to understand that they require more than a casual
(and even unconscious) approach to corporate knowledge." Whereas traditional
economics view the firm as a black box, they say the new understanding
"... accords with a renewed emphasis among strategists and economists on
... a competency-based or resource-based theory of the firm." They note
that theorists are now attending to the dynamics within the box, most particularly
"the knowledge embedded in the routines and practices that the firm transforms
into valuable products and services." (p. ix) They suggest that disappointment
with theories and fads has led firms to look for "something more basic
... irreducible and vital to performance, productivity, and innovation."
And they say that search has resulted in the realization that "what an
organization and its employees know is at the heart of how the organization
functions." (p. x)
However, almost all of the managers they interviewed admitted to being
clueless as to how to manage "value-added information and knowledge" in
their companies. Nor did they have any effective methods for "managing
and understanding how to better use information themselves." That is true
even though "... much of the knowledge they needed already existed within
their organizations but was not accessible or available when required."
(p. xii) Davenport and Prusak assert:
A company truly is a collection of people organized to produce something
... The material assets of the firm are of limited worth unless people
know what to do with them.(8) If "knowing
how to do things" defines what a firm is, then knowledge actually is
the company in an important sense. (p. xiii)
In support of the case for the next generation of management philosophy,
Peters (in Savage, p. xii) takes a slightly different emphasis:
Our companies are no longer just in the one-at-a-time transaction business;
more often they are co-creators along with other members of the "value
cluster." We call this mass customization, and the trick is that we do
not just customize for, but with our customers to meet the
aspirations of their customers.
Building on that theme in his book entitled 5th Generation
Management, Savage begins with the assertion that: "... our steep hierarchies,
the legacy of the industrial era, are incapable of effectively absorbing
and using the computer and networking technology ..." (p xvii) No doubt,
a combination of factors, including streamlining of hierarchies, are at
the root of our present prosperity. However, Federal Reserve Board Chairman
Greenspan has recently suggested that technology may be a primary cause
of the unprecedented length and depth of the economic expansion. Even so,
the worldwide gap between performance and potential remains vast, as Savage
Preliminary studies done around the world indicate that we are leveraging
from five to fifteen percent of our knowledge potential in organizations...
We can tell how effectively we are turning our inventory, but we hardly
have a clue as to how well or poorly we turn our knowledge. (p. xxi)
Savage cites the following factors contributing to the deficiencies and
offering the prospect for enhancements in productivity and success in competitive
The hierarchical organizational chart is based on narrowly defined rectangular
"job" boxes knitted together with thin horizontal and vertical lines."
... we can move beyond just looking at transactions, and instead learn
to discover the patterns in our customers' aspirations. (p. 18)
... we could talk about "customer empowerment ..."(9)
... when we start to look at customer aspirations, then we need to think
more about capabilities and competencies. (p. 21)
... in HR we have always just looked at our own people and our jobs...
But if we're going [to look] at ways to strengthen our customers' capabilities
... we're going to need another model... just having competencies doesn't
do anything for us, unless we can organize them. (pp. 22 & 23)
We need the discipline of quality dialogues among ... our different functions,
and ... with our suppliers and customers... We need to tap people's learning,
their experiences, their thoughts and feelings, and their knowledge and
aspirations in new ways.(10) (p. 24)
... we might see better through our ears than our eyes ... By careful listening,
we see possibilities that we can develop into concrete products and services
... sales and marketing [are turned] upside down ... We can listen for
... aspirations ... spot capabilities [and] begin to generate value at
the overlaps [with our customers, their customers, and our suppliers] ...
There is strength in numbers. United we stand; divided we fall. These are
truisms. Organizations, including governments, are formalized to do for
individuals what they cannot do for themselves. However, with respect to
such formalisms and the assumptions that are implicit within them, Savage
... the quality of the interaction ... is as important as the quality of
our internal products and processes ... our challenge is to discover patterns
... what the opportunities are and how they fit together ... Instead of
being a value chain, it is a "valuing cluster" ... (p. 30)
... requires openness to the truth and willingness to trust ... Respect
for the truth and a trusting culture are absolutely essential to be effective
...(11) (p. 31)
We ... need skill in dynamically teaming capabilities across companies.(12)
... it is not just our individual talents, but how we knit these talents
together that gives us our core competencies. (p. 41)
Many people are uncomfortable with rapid change. The desire for stability
and predictability is not only understandable but, in large measure, it
is a requisite for life. Moreover, the tendency to view others in terms
of us-versus-them and me-against the world may be embedded in our genes,
based upon eons of the evolutionary dynamics of survival in the nature.
However, the happy predicament facing us in the virtual world of the information
age is that we now have the ability as a society and a life form (human
beings) to break the linkage between survival and being able to "predefine
everything," i.e., to know in advance everything that is
necessary for life.
... it [is] easy to fall into the "either/or" trap [but] we [should shift]
to thinking in terms of "both/and." (p. 34)
Things are moving too swiftly to be able to predefine everything. The only
way is to allow the organization to define itself as we go. (p. 46)
Paradoxically, though, the freedom that we as individuals now enjoy
in the so-called "industrialized" nations is dependent upon the explicit
knowledge built into our organizations and our tools,
including not only our industries and information systems but also our
governments, educational institutions, and voluntary associations.
"Continuous improvement" is not just a slogan for practitioners of Total
Quality Management (TQM); it is a fact of life. At least it is for business
enterprises in a competitive marketplace ... if not necessarily for individuals
and government agencies, to whom neither the forces of nature nor the marketplace
may directly apply. On the other hand, the wonders of modern communications
- which contribute so greatly to our prosperity - will not permit us to
forget that much of the world's population still ekes out an existence
in areas where continuous improvement is not yet possible for lack of the
necessary cultural, social, educational, and institutional support. Nonetheless,
in the happy space and time of human existence in which we find ourselves,
Savage cites a propitious paradox and an even more enticing potential:
Amen! In the information age, to do otherwise is tantamount to giving up
control not only of one's precious and limited time on earth but also one's
free will. As the capabilities of our technology grow, we should not lose
sight of the fact that both our technology as well as our institutions,
including our profit-oriented businesses, exist to serve the needs and
interests of people - not the reverse. Nor should those who wield our legal
and institutional arrangements with particular skill be permitted to use
the power of technology to gain undue influence and control over others.
Unless we are prepared to renounce our beliefs in liberty, freedom, and
democracy, this is more than a matter of monopoly in the marketplace; at
some point it becomes an issue of control of our hearts and minds. That
is especially true if our culture accepts Davenport and Prusak's definition
of knowledge as including values and beliefs.
... the eternal marketer's dilemma: how do we continually adapt to ever-changing
customer needs? ... We keep ... looking for customer problems ... it will
be so much more exciting to look for aspirations, where we can grow new
possibilities together.(13) (pp. 52 &
... we need to excel not only with transactions-based relationships with
our customers, but also through innovative alliances where we can more
openly discover one another's capabilities and aspirations.(14)
Work is a process of giving form to something ... "adding value" to raw
materials and ... "generating value" through quality interaction ... (p.
64 & 65)
[People and organizations] need to move from a product push to a market
pull position ... (p. 71) ... Rather than pushing ... why not go to a Just-in-Time
pull system? (p. 259)
Based upon the traditional meaning of the word, it is understandable,
acceptable, and even desirable that a lower standard of "evidence" would
be applied to beliefs, for two reasons: On one hand, some things - including
those that may be most important to many of us, such as belief in a supreme
being - are beyond the bounds of human experience and comprehension to
prove. Logically speaking, such things must either be rejected or taken
on faith. At the other extreme, priorities and economies of human potential
dictate against devoting the time and attention to "know" with certainty,
based upon detailed understanding of complex material, everything that
it is possible to know among the multitude of facts, trivial and significant,
discovered and yet to be revealed.
In many and perhaps most cases, it is perfectly reasonable and even
preferable to accept some assertions as facts based upon belief in the
reliability of the sources, rather than actual understanding or experience
with the realities involved. However, if there truly is no difference between
what we "believe" and what we "know," the processes and particularly the
"promotions" by which our beliefs are "pushed" and shaped should be scrutinized
far more closely and critically than they have thus far in human history.
If the process of creating real value is based equally upon personal
values and beliefs as upon logic and fact, it is in fact a much different
process than the scientific method would allow. No one has ever said that
establishing truth is easy, but that is no excuse for lowering the bar
on excellence and success. Indeed, as Savage notes:
The truth is often buried in the confluence of a variety of human perceptions.
Only through the give-and-take of hard dialogue can it be discovered...
the notion of "push-back" [means w]hen someone makes a statement or takes
a position, others are expected to push back until the truth of the matter
is discovered. (p. 248)
Blurring the lines between fact and belief effectively diminishes the value
of each. This is definitely a case of the whole adding up to less than
the sum of its parts, an instance of 1 + 1 adding up to far less than 2.
It is not even a zero-sum game. The actual sum is more probably negative.
It is precisely the separation of fact from belief that enables and enobles
our spirit and our aspirations ... our visions that extend hopefully far
beyond our present realities. It is our ability to distinguish fact from
fiction, and to contemplate current reality in the context of that which
might come to be, that allows us to dream, to plan, and to work toward
a better tomorrow, individually and collectively.
Savage suggests, "Our aspirations are our contribution to the ... future"
(p. 226) and "[w]hat really holds us together is our ability to build upon
one another's aspirations and visions, our ability to envision collaboratively."
(p. 90) Moreover, he asserts:
The quality of the process ... is very much dependent upon our ability
to listen to themes being expressed and to respond accordingly. Our work
is also dependent upon our ability to envision and actively sort out what
we know (knowledging). In other words, our ability to listen (present),
see (future), and remember (past) must play together in the process of
work. (pp. 207 & 208)
The product is not an isolated entity but the statement of an effort at
a particular point in time. It is, in essence, an invitation to dialogue.
Examples of the past flowing with us abound... This information may be
well ordered and readily accessible, or it may be ... piled high with the
door forced shut... Individuals, like companies, also have information
that flows through time ... more or less readily available, depending upon
how well it is grasped, categorized, and arranged in memory. (p. 218)
In order to make the past a resource rather than and anchor, Savage notes
that the "... biggest challenge is to manage complexity ... The swirling
multiple interrelationships ... both internal and external ... are often
more chaotic than orderly." (p. 97)
There is a lesson ... Live in the past, the present is too late! ... If
we have sorted out and arranged our thoughts and experiences, they can
become a resource to help us live more effectively in the present. If we
have done a slipshod job, the past can be an anchor weighing us down ...
To the (substantial) degree that tools can help to address the challenge
of managing complexity, breaking down needless hierarchical barriers, and
bringing some sense of order to chaos, relational database
management systems (RDBMS) are the appropriate technology to be applied.
That may seem obvious, but in this author's experience it is too infrequently
noted. Likewise, the fact that SQL (Structured Query Language) is the pertinent
standard may be taken as a given, but may not be widely observed as individuals
and organizations continue constructing proprietary, anti-customer-focused
information silos and stovepipe systems leading inevitably to inefficiency,
if not directly to dead ends. Moreover, the accommodation of interrelationships
in a worldwide marketplace calls for the use of an international directory
standard like X.500.(15)
Hoffmann-LaRoche (in Davenport and Prusak, p. 69) asserts: "Relevance
is far more important than completeness" and relevance is certainly about
interrelationships - among people, information, ideas, and things. However,
Hoffman-LaRoche poses a false "either/or" choice of the sort decried by
Savage. In fact, the objective should be both relevance and
completeness, and adherence to international standards is not only the
best but also the only way to achieve that objective. By definition, any
other course leads inevitably to incompatible and incomplete information
silos containing only a subset - an outdated as well as incomplete set
- of the information "in the world."
Faced with unmanageable complexities, Savage declares: "Finely tuned
bureaucracies with carefully defined policies, procedures, and job descriptions
will be no match for the marketplace in the next millennium." (p. 98) True,
no doubt. However, bureaucracies will be replaced by finely tuned information
systems, in which two things are very carefully and well defined:
a) the attributes and ever-growing and changing capabilities and interests
of individuals, and b) the evolving relationships
among people, organizations, products, services, and other natural and
person-made "entities" or "objects."
Indeed, building upon the Internet, a single, logical information system
will come to prevail worldwide. Already, Savage observes, "... organic
communities on the Internet ... sometimes become communities of practice
[and] few reach the community of co-creation." (p. 141) The technical
standards embodied in the system will empower individuals anywhere
to throw off the yolk of oppression of thought and words, if not necessarily
deeds.(16) In Savage's words, organizations
As with the use of a common language, such standardized data elements and
application tools will free people to the maximum of their desire and capability
to participate in an ever-expanding web of prosperity and knowledge. As
the interests of customers, consumers, and citizens of the world come to
prevail, neither kings nor dictators nor potentates of proprietary information
systems can remain on their exalted perches to command the masses.
... recognize how important it is to define a limited core set of data
elements that can be used by all the different functions. [Perhaps] twenty
to thirty core elements that cut across the enterprise.(17)
... standardize ... tools and procedures, and ... ask task teams to identify
core data elements that can be added to the enterprise data dictionary
... begin by listing all applications and grouping them by function...
develop a list of twenty key items ... choose ten key applications and
see how [the] terms are defined ... in the context of the application ...
However, as Savage remarks: "We can only bring about our desired future
if we can sort out our past. The ideas and assumptions of the past ...
are largely bankrupt." (p. 98) He suggests: "Networking technology is absolutely
essential if we hope to build agile enterprises, but by itself it is not
enough. Human knowledge networking is at the core of the integrative process...
We need not only teams, but 'teamwork of teams' and 'networks of teams.'"(18)
(p. 99) And Savage asserts that we should not expect much help from information
... artificial intelligence and expert systems have not delivered what
some had promised, primarily because rule-based systems have difficulty
in capturing the larger context in which activities must be understood.
... the best databases are in people's heads [but] human distrust slows
real communication to a snail's pace.(19)
This may be an apt description of the status quo. However, that does not
mean that people's "heads" are necessarily the best place for "databases"
of knowledge to reside.(20) In fact, one
of the reasons that distrust "slows" real communication is that human memory
is both so fallible as well as so malleable. If we can't trust our own
memory, who in their right mind would trust anyone else's for anything
that is truly important, at least anything that is important in a business
sense. Mistrust is not only logical but also a
necessary response to the unreliability of ","
much of which has more to do with beliefs and values than with objective
realities. In addition, Savage observes:
... executives are facing a whole new set of management challenges:
[to] move beyond the ... fragmentation of industrial-era companies
... maintain accountability in flat, dynamic network organizations
... support focusing and coordination of multiple cross-functional
task teams [and] build into the ... organization the capacity for continual
learning and quick market responsiveness ... (p. 101)
Yet he notes that many organizations are ill-equipped to meet the challenge
because "... in steep hierarchies, task teams often remain invisible to
those who are not involved." (p. 272) Another problem is that "... learning
is often impeded because we are afraid that if we give away our good ideas,
someone else may get credit for them... many project teams fail to retain
their knowledge as they proceed through the project... much of what they
have learned evaporates ..." (p. 274)
On the other hand, he suggests: "... teams should be responsible for
defining their goals, purpose, and mission - together with their project
plan - in a shareable database." (p. 273) And he notes: "... if visibility
and accountability are built into the system, [inefficiencies self-imposed
by workers] are no longer problems. (p. 276) " As Savage puts it:
One of the challenges of the knowledge era is to capture individual
and team learning on a continuing basis, making it available to others
in the enterprise. Much learning remains at the tacit level, and it often
takes concerted effort to make [it] explicit and accessible to others.
"Time-to-learn" is as critical as "time-to-market." (p. 102)
Beckman (in Liebowitz, p. 1-6) points out:
Learning from experience is more vivid, but not very efficient. There
is also a human tendency to overgeneralize from one or several experiences.
When available, it may be preferable to learn from experts, books, and
training. Learning from the experience and mistakes of others is often
Beckman's points are well taken. Savage and others wax poetically about
organizational and team learning. However, in reality and in plain language,
neither teams nor organizations "learn"! Only individual
people do. Two heads may always be better than one but, in the final analysis,
each acquires its knowledge independently of the other. Of course, that
does not mean we cannot learn from each other by informal means nor that
group dynamics (such as brainstorming, discussion, and debate) cannot facilitate
the process. However, the fact remains that human brains cannot be hard
wired in series, much less in parallel. Knowledge must enter human heads
individually, regardless of how many people may be in the "room" - virtually
or in reality.
Theoretically, all of the knowledge that will ever be in the heads of
people is already in the world, waiting to be discovered. However, to the
degree that human knowledge can and will be used to effect action in the
world, it must be made explicit - embedded in physical objects in the world.
If the knowledge is embedded in an object - such as a piece of paper, computer
hard drive, or CD ROM - that is not intended directly to effect action
by people or machines, it is a "record" that may be employed indirectly
toward that end.
Thus, to the degree that an individual or organization is not directly
empowered to take appropriate action, readily accessible and directly applicable
are essential not only to reduce "time to market" but also "time to learn."
Ultimately, gossip aside, records are vital to support timely, effective,
and appropriate action - even if the action taken is merely talk. The key
to effective action is efficient access to knowledge, and the key to efficient
access to knowledge is that it must be both explicit and well codified
- rather than being locked away in the minds of those who happen to occupy
an arbitrary location in a hierarchy.
In terms that are somewhat ethereal yet essentially true, Savage outlines
the his vision of the next generation of management philosophy:
If Savage's description of fifth-generation management is apt, it might
be said that sixth-generation management is about moving still further
beyond outmoded notions of hierarchy that place individual human beings
in positions subservient to others. Empower, energize, and enable - these
are all good words. However, in terms of personnel management philosophy,
they still embody the "either/or" thinking that Savage appropriately decries.
In short, they assume that "leaders" must empower, energize, and effect
action by others. That is, leaders must "manage" the behavior of people
or they will fail to act or to act appropriately. Such is a fairly dismal
and elitist view of the human condition.
We need to be in touch with ourselves - our visions, knowledge, thoughts,
and feelings - and with one another in new and creative ways... fifth-generation
management is a question of leadership... not being preoccupied with one's
own power, but with how we empower, energize, and enable
one another. (p. 102)(22)
Too often [the command-and-control] model degenerates into not what but
whom a person knows. (p. 253)
The challenge is to develop a culture that supports the establishment of
core teams that are free to draw on knowledge resources wherever they are
found, within or outside the enterprise. (p. 257)
Instead of envisioning the organization as mutually exclusive boxes, we
should think of overlapping teams and overlapping companies ... (p. 277)
On the other hand, Savage outlines a more egalitarian and hopeful perspective
based upon the employment of automated tools, rather than the subservience
of employees to the dictates of overlords. Although he downplays the prospects
for significant contributions from artificial intelligence and expert systems,
he does acknowledge:
By contrast, Savage says the traditional "... automationist approach presupposes
the computerization of steep hierarchies." On the other hand, he acknowledges
that more flexible and open communication "... is, by definition, 'confusingly
complex' because of all the little kingdoms ..." However, he asserts, "An
elegantly simple organization is one that is easy for customers, suppliers,
and distributors to interact with because of its sophistication."(23)
(p. 107) "Little kingdoms" are built upon restrictive bureaucratic procedures
and proprietary information systems. The sophistication of an "elegantly
simple organization" must be undergirded by international standards for
openness and technical interoperability. Such standards must embed sufficient
complexity so as to support not only all organizations but also all "customers"
(human beings) worldwide.(24) As Savage
A good technically networked infrastructure is fast becoming a precondition
for marketplace success ... Even more important, however, is our human
ability to network with one another on real business and technical opportunities...
A management strategy based upon "command and control" is giving way to
one centered on "focusing and coordinating" multiple teams within and between
companies. (p. 105)
The task of the 1990s and early part of the next millennium is to build
networked infrastructures and adjust our mindsets so that, working together,
we will be adroit in our thinking and agile in our actions... an "elegantly
simple" enterprise. (p. 107)
The general theory of the firm holds that enterprises form when the cost
of transactions becomes too great without them. Thus, to the degree that
networks reduce the cost of transactions, the need and justification for
"firms" declines. One of the ironies in current trends in management philosophy
is the thought that organizations should no longer be based upon functional
expertise. However, to the degree that computer networks - particularly
directories and document management systems based upon open-systems standards
for interoperability - can reduce the "friction" involved in drawing together
the diverse technical expertise to accomplish any task, functional
"centers of excellence" may be the only remaining justification
for any "firm" incorporation of individuals.(26)
Indeed, those who cooperate to form centers of excellence may prefer to
call their unions "agiles," "supples," "flexibles," "knowledgeables" or
perhaps even "functionals" - instead of "firms." Savage continues:
It is not possible to command external resources in the same way in which
internal resources can be dominated. Instead, the fine art of alliance
building between peers becomes critical...(25)
Computer networking both enables and demands the exchange of information
within the firm and among firms... business success will increasingly depend
upon the knowledge resources of the firms rather than on their fixed capital.
As we enter the knowledge era, virtual enterprises will shift focus from
"control" to "commitment," from "monitoring" to "motivating," and from
"commanding" to "conducting." (p. 236)
With respect to the relationship between information management systems
and KM, Davenport and Prusak draw an important distinction between data
and documents and, thus, database management systems versus document
The industrial era defined fixed resources. The knowledge era needs to
draw upon variable or virtual resources to meet unique market and customer
demands in a timely manner by configuring and reconfiguring the appropriate
capabilities and competencies within and between companies to seize concrete
and profitable market opportunities. (p. 123)
... agility is not and end unto itself, but a way to help make ... customers
more successful... Agile companies are self-organizing... People who need
to work together ... simply team up... This takes excellence in leveraging
the capabilities of people and information systems. (p. 135)
Since it is the value added by people - context, experience, and interpretation
- that transforms data and information into knowledge, it is the ability
to capture and manage those human additions that make information technologies
particularly suited to dealing with knowledge. While technologies designed
for managing data are structured, typically numerically oriented, and address
large volumes of observations, knowledge technologies deal most frequently
with text rather than numbers, and text relatively unstructured forms,
such as clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and even stories. Volume may be
the friend of data management, but it is the enemy of knowledge management
- simply because humans have to sift through the volume to find the desired
knowledge. (p. 129)
Davenport and Prusak observe that most firms whose "knowledge architectures"
are based upon Lotus Notes, for example, are a "bit haphazard ..." and
that "discussion databases" are a "somewhat less structured form of accumulated
knowledge ..." Engaging in understatement, they acknowledge that "finding
the knowledge one wants from so many different places ... is very challenging
..." (pp. 132 & 146) However, this observation merely highlights the
weakness of their own working knowledge of the appropriate usage of database
technology to codify the myriad relationships
among textual documents, thereby making knowledge not only
explicit (in the form of records) but also readily accessible based upon
the pertinent parameters and relationships. In fact, the relational model
is embedded in the COTS products of many of the market leading vendors
of electronic document management systems.(27)
Indeed, even though Davenport and Prusak's commentary on "discussion
databases" is itself a bit haphazard, they do redeem themselves somewhat
by noting that "... structured, explicit knowledge [in documents] does
not become usable simply by being codified ..."(28)
(p. 85) However, they assert more specifically the following key point:
Codifying knowledge is an essential step in leveraging
its value in the organization. Codification gives permanence to knowledge
that may otherwise exist only inside an individual's mind. It represents
or embeds knowledge in forms that can be shared, stored, combined, and
manipulated in a variety of ways. (p. 87, emphasis added)
Regardless of the relative merit of the knowledge itself, and whether it
is in tacit or explicit form, codification is a critical
success factor (CSF) for leveraging the value of explicit knowledge. Moreover,
making tacit knowledge explicit is a CSF for competitive advantage in any
large-scale organization. Knowledge that is documented and readily accessible
and/or embedded in technology can be potent indeed, perhaps even so as
to reshape our organizations from the outside in. Those who fail to learn
from their (documented) history may either be forced to relive it or they
may be "reconfigured" by external forces beyond their control. As Savage
observes: "The irony is that the technological developments may themselves
force more profound organizational changes than all of the theorists combined."
As noted, the theory of the firm holds that business organizations form
when the cost of transactions becomes too great without them. The Internet
- more specifically, the technical standards of the Internet - is breaking
down the artificially high cost of carrying out transactions using proprietary
stovepipe information systems. Thus, the technology is dissolving the distinction
between internal and external resources. Beyond redefining the boundaries
of the "firm," information technology is calling into question the very
need for artificial organizational constructs that exist more for their
own sake than for the purpose of delivering anything of value in a supply
chain leading to customers.
To the degree that corporations are formed to reduce the risk to individuals,
serious study should be devoted to the question of whether the benefits
may not be outweighed by the bureaucratic costs in terms of loss of accountability,
responsiveness, and satisfaction to all of the individuals involved. It
seems that there must be more cost-efficient means of insuring individuals
against the risks involved. Pooling explicit business process knowledge
and insuring the resulting functions against risk would seem to be a function
tailor-made for inter-networking by electronic means supported by directories
and documentation (E-records). There is vast potential for improvements
in efficiency, accountability, and responsibility relative to the current
reality of our hierarchical bureaucracies and litigious society. Current
reality is that no one is responsible when everyone is responsible, and
we all end up paying the price of management structures and philosophies
that lead to a disconnect between personal thoughts, intents, and deeds
versus the outcomes visited upon others through "corporate" action.
With reference to accountability, it is instructive to consider the
definition of "manage" as set forth in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary
vt 1. to handle or direct with a degree of skill or address a. to make
and keep submissive ... b. to treat with care: husband. 2. to alter by
manipulation. 3. to succeed by accomplishing: contrive
Savage reminds us that the connection between servitude and the lack of
or failure to use technology is hardly new: "Aristotle ... foresaw [automation
as the] one condition on which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates,
and masters not needing slaves." (p. 176)
vi 1. a. to direct or carry on business or affairs b. to admit of being
carried on 2. to achieve one's purpose, syn: conduct
In plain language, it might be fairly stated that the behavior of kids,
criminals, and domesticated animals should be "managed" ... but what of
the rest of us? Do we really need to be "handled" and "manipulated" so
as to be kept "submissive"? Is the job of leaders truly to "contrive" to
make the rest of us do as they wish? Does that really serve the interests
of marketplace efficiency? "Free" enterprise? Entrepreneurship? Society
as a whole? The interests of individual human beings?
In truth, it is nobody's business to manage the behavior
of other law-abiding adults - at least not the behavior of knowledge workers,
whose business is to contribute to the world's knowledge store. What most
of us should aspire to manage is machines, inanimate objects, data, information,
and knowledge. Most particularly, we should aspire with glee to manage,
build, and enhance explicit knowledge, which is to say, the
of that which has already been discovered, justified, and/or proven. The
ability to do so is what separates us from lesser creatures. The lack of
will and skill in managing and using explicit knowledge is perhaps the
greatest single failure of leadership to advance the human condition more
rapidly, with less waste and inefficiency.(29)
It has been said that "the mind is a terrible thing to waste." A corollary
is that it is a tragedy to waste the collective wisdom of the multitude
of mankind over the millennia simply by failing to make knowledge both
explicit, in more or less formal records, as well as readily accessible
by virtue of careful and complete codification. Moreover, as Savage points
out, if results are made visible in the information system, accountability
will take care of itself.
As Savage notes: "The shift from the industrial to the knowledge era
is primarily one of attitudes, values, and norms. It can only come through
a struggle of thought, because most of the changes are counterintuitive."
(p. 110) Efforts to manage or even to influence the behavior of other law-abiding
knowledge workers are wasteful, inefficient, and misdirected - except
through the careful documentation and sharing of expert knowledge. Lacking
substantiation, those who "push" their own views or "push back" against
the views of others are essentially being obnoxious, argumentative, and/or
dictatorial - regardless of their position in any hierarchy. Their views
may indeed reflect their deeply held values as well as their arbitrary
position of authority. However, in absence of verifiable, explicit evidence
and supportable logic, emoting one's beliefs adds little or nothing to
the store of human knowledge.
Moreover, Savage points out, "Research has shown that ... the hierarchical
model is, in most companies, a fantasy." (p. 115) Yet organizations continue
to draw hierarchical boxes and pretend as though they mean something, and
in many organizations they do: They are a rather large impediment to the
efficient processing of information and sharing of knowledge. To combat
that effect, in Future Perfect, Davis suggests that the best management
structure to replace the hierarchy is networking, because it relies "not
on an informal web of personal contacts, but on a technological web of
information handling systems." (in Savage, p. 116)
Trusting that Davis is right, it will be interesting to see how long
inefficient and ineffective bureaucracies can hold out against the forces
of technological advance that enable and empower knowledge workers to "synergize"
new knowledge without regard to hierarchies that are irrelevant to the
informational interrelationships involved. As Savage observes:
The evolution of computers offers an interesting parallel to what we
are being challenged to do organizationally... The key to the fifth-generation
computer, parallel processing, is in the networking of multiple processing
units... to divide the problem so that the multiple processors can work
on portions of the same problem concurrently, then piece together the solution.
(pp. 111 & 112) ... Fifth-generation management makes it possible for
the functional departments to work in parallel through the use of
multiple task-focusing teams within and between companies... (p. 114)(30)
Regardless of how the boxes are drawn on the org chart, the confines of
the traditional organization, or how efficiently it manages data, information,
or knowledge, Savage suggests:
Beyond the confines of the bureaucratic hierarchies, Savage notes that
"... people form alliances and coalitions that cut across traditional boundaries...
yet traditional computerization approaches are blind to their existence."
(p. 157) Despite all the platitudes about customer focus and massive promotion
of notions of "customer service," traditional approaches to automation
are neither customer- nor service-oriented. Rather, they are proprietary,
self-centered, and profit-oriented. Please do not misunderstand, profit
is a good word; it is just that there are better ways to
achieve it in the long-term interest of all concerned. Companies cannot
have it both ways. They cannot successfully project an image of superior
customer service while at the same time trying to lock customers in by
building barriers to switching - unless: a) their customers are stupid
enough to let them get away with it, or b) their government fails to enforce
the antitrust laws effectively. (See also Ambur, 1996, May, and Ambur,
Knowledge is not something that is possessed like a commodity. Instead,
it represents a capability to see broad new patterns among fuzzy old ideas
and new impressions and relate them in a larger context. "Knowledging"
... is more than the accumulation of and access to information, because
it looks at both the known (information) and the visionary (what could
be). (p. 121)
... knowledging is a process of refining meaning and significance in concrete
situations... a dynamic and ongoing process that involves our human capabilities
to see existing patterns and at the same time envision new patterns. (p.
... much of a company's knowledge is located in highly subjective insights,
intuitions, hunches, ideals, values, images, symbols, metaphors, and analogies...
It is necessary ... to consciously mine these ideas and insights... (p.
As Savage notes, "We are putting powerful new technology in traditional,
industrial-era steep hierarchies." He asserts, "Either we learn to adapt
to this new technology and leverage its capabilities, or we may find our
companies imploding as they choke on complexity and their inability to
sort out multiple interrelated variables." (p. 159) In short, both people
as well as organizations thrive on "elegant simplicity." The necessary
complexity must be built into "open-systems" standards supporting a virtual
worldwide business information and knowledge repository, and the myriad
relationships must be embodied in massively scalable relational database
In fact, as Savage says, "Aristotle's vision is being realized ... routine
processes are handled by hardware and software, not people." (p. 177)(31)
Many tasks once thought to be honest and decent labor when the means of
life were dear are now considered beneath the dignity of human beings.
Having to contend with proprietary information systems is a plague with
which we are still afflicted, but as Savage notes:
Standards and "interoperability" are not merely "central" issues; they
are the issue. Standards make knowledge of common requirements
explicit, both in terms of functional processes as well as the documents
and data to be processed. Moreover, standards specify and enable the embedding
of knowledge as design principles in working products. Savage observes:
There is ... tremendous pressure from users to establish open systems,
including industry-approved user interfaces. These technological developments
will make it much easier for enterprises to work in parallel ... (p. 155)
In the 1970s [efforts] to develop ... the "Great Database in the Sky" ...
failed because of two unforeseen problems: first, the available hardware
and software were not flexible enough; and second, they tripped over naming
conventions... traditional flat data files ... did not provide the flexibility
to interrelate multiple operations. Each functional group in the organization
had its own naming conventions. They underestimated the difficulty of achieving
agreement across the organization regarding definition of key terms...
Two lessons stand out ... First, simplify operations ... Second, standardize
terms across the organization. (pp. 156 & 157)
Many people are working on standards so that there will be well-defined
protocols ... so that equipment from different vendors will fit into one
structure... These efforts will continue to grow in importance as connectivity
and interoperability become central issues. (p. 182)
... data [is] central to any integration effort. Data [should] be common
and shareable across functions... [It is important to be] able to identify
the key information items (data entries) that should be captured, architected,
and managed in an integrated manner. (pp. 184 & 185)
Yet, in and of itself, data is meaningless. Data must be given context
to be meaningful to human beings. One definition of "document" is "data
in context." Documents are the universal human interface to knowledge,
and in order to share knowledge effectively, without the artificial and
counterproductive constraints of needless bureaucratic hierarchy, Savage
Thus, a common language must apply. However, Savage also points out:
Peer-to-peer knowledge networking has three aspects: technology, information,
and people... technology ... allows each node to communicate directly with
every other node, without having to filter through a hierarchical arrangement...
[However,] peer-to-peer information access is a major challenge. (p. 199)
... applications may use different words to mean the same thing, the same
words to mean different things, or different shades of meaning for the
same words. (p. 200)
At the same time, Savage highlights an observation that is contrary to
the common wisdom:
In dynamic teaming we evolve the rules as we go, the roles are fluid, and
the task is to collaborate with other teams... There cannot be clear rules
for creativity because it lives at the intersection of the expected and
the unexpected ... although the insights from [the past] can be codified
and serve as resources to be drawn upon as needed. (p. 201)
... knowledge networking does not homogenize people into bland commonality...
it sharpens our perceptions of one another's talents and abilities. We
learn to value differences [as] strengths... multiple teams ... seek out
and build upon one another's competencies.(32)
[Again, though] there has to be some commonality of context. (p. 203) ...
In fact, seeing the significant patterns together as teams is the challenge
of any enterprise. (p. 204)
... teams do not need to be co-located. Research studies indicate that
geographically dispersed teams can often work as effectively as co-located
teams, if not more so. A dispersed group might communicate more explicitly,
requiring clarity of thought, whereas co-located groups often tend to communicate
haphazardly. (p. 231)
He suggests that virtual teams should be established regardless of the
location of individual people. (p. 270) And in order to support and capitalize
on the knowledge of widely dispersed networking teams, Savage cites an
important movement and a resulting trend:
Savage notes that "[n]etworking enterprises are ... held together ... by
shared visions and common knowledge resources, the most valuable of which
are in people's heads..." He acknowledges that relational and object-oriented
database technology make it easier to dynamically reconfigure computer-based
memory, but suggests that such technology is limited. On the other hand,
... virtual enterprising ... is an evolution of what some have called "open
organizations" [and] there [is] much interest in the International Standards
Organization's Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) networking model and
X/Open, an industry coalition dedicated to stimulating the development
of portable software... to create a common core, extending it as the need
arises. (pp. 231 & 232)
... studies in neural networking and chaos are helping to move us beyond
the machine model of organizations ... A new generation of professionals
is growing up with the technology of networking. Natural clusters of interest
arise spontaneously ... People are networking not because they are told
to, but because of natural interests. (p. 237)
In order to capture, codify, and share such invaluable resources, Savage
suggests: "... task teams should be expected not only to solve the tasks
at hand, but also to contribute to the knowledge base and to augment the
shared business vision." (p. 280) In addition, to capture and make explicit
the essential elements of tacit knowledge, he proposes to "... invite individuals
to keep a reference description of their backgrounds, interests, and capabilities
in an accessible database..." (p. 270)
... if an enterprise captures 30 percent of its core knowledge
in a consistent and shareable manner and in an understandable data
architecture, then a partnership between people and processors can be quite
powerful. (p. 279, emphases added)
As individual and team learning is codified in engineering
standards, classification and coding systems, operating techniques, applications,
data dictionaries, and customer profiles, an invaluable resource
is developed... (p. 280, emphases added)
Having devoted many words of praise to the primacy of tacit knowledge,
Savage concludes with a tacit admission of the shortcomings of such knowledge
- in the eight words of the following plea: "Please keep a log that you
can share ..." (p. 283) Indeed, the inadequacies of implicit knowledge
are themselves implicit in the minds of all of us, literally and figuratively.
We know the frailties of our own minds even as we glorify them. While tacit
knowledge is perfectly adequate for many purposes, for the reasons specified
by Norman, more is needed for precise behavior, important business transactions,
and advancements in knowledge.
Indeed, more is needed than is commonly recognized in the wisdom of
most of the evangelists for knowledge management. Balla (1999) characterizes
and challenges six myths that are implicit in the minds of many of the
proponents of KM:
Presumably, Balla is at least 80 percent right in exposing these myths
and pointing toward more realistic objectives, but his characterization
of the truth behind the fourth myth is at least 20 percent wrong. In reality,
knowledge is still largely reserved for the elite. Balla downplays the
role of technology in contributing further to the solution, but in truth,
technology is the only hope - not only for those who are still deprived
of information but also those who are inundated with it. Nevertheless,
his point is well taken with respect to the second myth: People will still
have to do much of the translation of information into knowledge. In addition
to rendering knowledge in explicit form, largely in textual documents,
human beings will also need to provide much of the the codification. Codification
is the only way that knowledge can truly be made accessible, and that its
quality and pertinence can be made readily assessable by
those who need it.
The corporate repository exploits the reuse of quality knowledge
... Unfortunately, most corporate repositories have no way of ensuring
the quality of the knowledge that is added to them...
KM is about capturing tacit knowledge ... It is not realistic to
expect software ... to translate and capture [subtle forms] of tacit knowledge.
People have to do the translating and digesting... don't expect anyone
to be able to reduce the capabilities of human cognition into a series
of mathematical equations...
KM addresses the needs of the knowledge worker ... KM will have
the biggest payoff for folks who work in a certain amount of chaos, perform
tasks in an ad hoc fashion and have few rules to which to adhere... KM
can provide enough structure to help employees find what they need, while
maintaining their freedom, in large part, to do what they want...
KM can only be realized through technology ... Up until a few years
ago, the biggest problem with knowledge seemed to be that so much of it
was inaccessible to so many people - knowledge was reserved for the elite.
All that has changed... certain technologies ... have opened the floodgates
of mass information consumption... People spend so much time trying to
decipher the good information from the bad ... that they have relatively
little time to actually consume information and refine it into something
The KM technology vendor dictates the KM solution ... True KM solutions
should be customer-driven, not vendor-driven...
The KM market was created by customer demand ... Many view KM to
be an industry buzzword invented and promoted by the vendor and analyst
communities. Today, there is little agreement about what KM actually is,
but we're getting there...(33)
Davenport and Prusak (p. xv) assert: "The core message ... is that the
only sustainable advantage a firm has comes from what it collectively knows,
how efficiently it uses what it knows, and how readily it acquires and
uses new knowledge." There appears to be widespread consensus that people
will continue to play not only a central but a vital role in that regard.
However, Beckman (in Liebowitz, pp. 1-5) has proffered a several principles
that human beings who wish to be part of successful organizations would
be well advised to observe:
Davenport and Prusak conclude (p. 178) with a note of caution:
Shared, formal knowledge and expertise are the key to superior organizational
performance, agility, and success.
Knowledge must be formalized, or made explicit, to have significant value
to an organization.
Only formalized knowledge can be represented electronically, and be stored,
shared, and effectively applied.
... we must be careful not to spend too much time acquiring and managing
knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge and learning must always serve the
broader aim of the organization. Otherwise it becomes at worst a liability
and at best a distraction. Just as we shouldn't undertake any action without
examining what can be learned from it, we shouldn't learn anything without
relating it to practice. A health tension between knowledge and action
is the key to organizational (and probably individual) success.
However, for knowledge workers whose output is data, information, and knowledge
recorded in documents, Davenport and Prusak are posing a false "either/or"
choice. For those people as well as the organizations that employ them,
the issue is not to balance a tradeoff between
knowledge and action. Instead, the key is to use systems and processes
that are self-documenting. The value proposition involves
action and knowledge, simultaneously and continuously. Expert
knowledge should be captured and managed automatically, as
a by-product of the knowledge work processes. Records should be managed
as corporate assets throughout their full life cycles, from conception
to destruction, in electronic repositories.
Performance measures should be implicit in the system so that the results
are automatically made explicit, in which case they will speak for themselves.
Relational database management systems should be used to capture and manage
important relationships among textual documents as well as other kinds
of electronic records. As soon as each record is signed, approved, or otherwise
finalized, it should be stored securely in inalterable form accessible
via a file management system. Each record should be maintained for as long
as it continues to have value in the business process, including the need
to offset unforeseen risk subsequently arising from individual and corporate
actions. Records should be stored together on inalterable media in accord
with their projected destruction dates, so that all records on a particular
physical storage medium may be destroyed at the same time.
Electronic repositories containing documents recording explicit knowledge
should be based upon international standards for interoperability. Such
standards should encompass both technical interoperability as well as semantic
meaning, which is essential for the sharing of knowledge among human beings.
To make important relationships explicit among explicit elements of knowledge
documented in electronic records, the appropriate elements of metadata
should be associated with each document. Multilingual thesauri should be
provided to facilitate automated discovery of such relationships.
Finally, to the greatest degree possible, knowledge should be embedded
in working tools and other products so that human beings are free to devote
their unique but finite information processing capabilities to the discovery
of that which is as yet unknown.(34)
Such are the means by which the vision of sixth-generation management
will be realized in the working knowledge of the new millennium.
Ambur, O. (1996, May) "Critical Success Factors for a Collaborative Database
in a Large, Geographically Dispersed Organization." University of Maryland
University College. Available at: http://users.erols.com/ambur/Discuss.html
Ambur, O. (1996, November) "Needles in Haystacks: Getting to the Point
of Federal Records with Document Metadata and Electronic Document Management
Systems." University of Maryland University College. Available at: http://users.erols.com/ambur/Needles.html
Ambur, O. (1997, May) "Automated Forms: Putting the Customer First Through
Intelligent Object-Oriented Chunking of Information and Technology." University
of Maryland University College. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/Eforms.html
Ambur, O. (1997, September) "Metadata or Malfeasance: Which Will It
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Ambur, O. (1997, December) "1-800-SAY-THE-WORD: The X.500 Blue Pages
Key to Stockholder/Customer-Accessible Government." University of Maryland
University College. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/BluePage.html
See also: http://www.fws.gov/laws/BluePgs.html
Ambur, O. (1999, April 6). "Freedom's Just Another Word ... for Metadata:
Knowledge Management and Discovery via DASL, Z39.50, X.500, and the DMA."
Proceedings of the IEEE Metadata Conference. Available at: http://users.erols.com/ambur/freedom.html
Ambur, O. (1999, May 2) "When Push Comes to Shove: The Potential to
Protect Personal Privacy and Preferences Via P3P, Digital Personas, and
X.500." University of Maryland University College. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/PushShove.html
Balla, J. (1999, July) "Doculabs challenges six myths of KM." KMWorld.
Vol. 8, Iss 7. p. 19.
Balla, J., Harty, J., and Andrews, L. (1999, July) "Knowledge Management
Comes of Age: Doculabs takes a look at KM products from nine vendors."
The Voice of the Document Management Industry. AIIM International.
pp. 22 - 29.
Davenport, T.H. (1997) Information Ecology: Mastering the Information
and Knowledge Environment. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
AIIM. Document Management Alliance (DMA). Home Page at: http://www.aiim.org/dma/
See also ODMA and WfMC. White Paper at: http://users.erols.com/ambur/DMA.html
Liebowitz, J. (1999) Knowledge Management Handbook. Washington,
DC: CRC Press.
Norman, D.A. (1988) The Psychology of Everyday Things (POETS).
New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc.
Savage, C.M. (1996) 5th Generation Management: Co-creating
Through Virtual Enterprising, Dynamic Teaming, and Knowledge Networking.
(Revised Edition) Boston, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Vos Savant, M. (1996) The Power of Logical Thinking: Easy Lessons
in the Art of Reasoning ... and Hard Facts About Its Absence in Our Lives.
New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin.
1. See Liebowitz, pp. iii and 1-3.
2. See Liebowitz, p. 1-6.
3. In the interim since Norman wrote these words
in 1988, Windows has become the de facto standard on the desktop. More
recently, Microsoft is succeeding in wresting from Netscape the supremacy
in delivering "browser" capabilities to the desktop as users' window on
the world that is the Internet and particularly the World Wide Web. There
can be little doubt of the truth of Norman's words with respect to the
benefits of standardization in terms of usability. The questions are whether
Microsoft's de facto monopoly: a) extracts excessive profits from users,
b) dictates applications and standards that would not prevail individually
in the marketplace based upon their own merits, and c) discourages better,
more open and freely usable applications and standards in the interest
of everyone other than the employees and stockholders of Microsoft.
4. With respect the need to share information, Liebowitz
(p. iv) notes:
From a recent benchmarking of 150 companies, most people were not concerned
about keeping their knowledge close to heart to maintain their own competitive
edge. Rather, [they] didn't want to use other people's knowledge because
they couldn't put their own thumbprint on [it].
In other words, the NIH (not invented here) problem of pride in authorship
may be a bigger impediment than unwillingness to share knowledge within
5. In her book, The Power of Logical Thinking,
Vos Savant (p. 90) observed:
... when I began to pay attention to all the misinformation, disinformation,
and flagrant abuse of the general public's lack of education in logic and
elementary mathematical skills ... I found it everywhere ... but most especially
from ... our government. This phenomenon isn't the exception. It's the
Zimmerman (Liebowitz, p. 16-1) cites the following special KM challenges
6. Systems that have been deliberately overloaded by
hackers (crackers) with meaningless volumes of information are euphemistically
said to have suffered "denial of service" attacks, since valid users are
thereby denied access. It is no more euphemistic to suggest that individuals
and organizations that allow themselves to be inundated with uncodified
information are likewise subjecting themselves and their customers to denial
of service in the knowledge value chain.
Sheer Volume of Records
Necessity to Keep over Long Period of Time
Mandate to Provide Public Access
Need to Keep Documents Secure
Many Documents in Paper Form
7. Savage lists ten practical considerations for
5th generation management: 1) envisioning capabilities so that
the context is readily visible; 2) functional centers of excellence; 3)
technical networking infrastructure; 4) data-integration strategy; 5) ability
to identify and track multiple task-focusing teams; 6) learning, relearning,
and unlearning; 7) norms, values, rewards, and measurements; 8) ability
to support the teamwork of teams; 9) knowledge base; and 10) include suppliers,
partners, distributors, and customers (p. 266)
8. A commonly heard platitude is, "Our people are
our most important asset." But how is the worth of the human "asset" to
be measured? By head count? By person-hours encumbered? By educational
degrees earned? Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1975) defines
1 a. the property of a deceased person ... b. the entire property of
all sorts of a person, association, corporation, or estate applicable or
subject to payment of his or its debts. 2. advantage, resources. 3. the
items on a balance sheet showing the book value of property owned.
Isn't it somewhat demeaning to suggest that human beings are "assets" owned
by corporations, agencies, and organizations?
9. We could do more than just "talk" about "customer
empowerment." If we have the understanding and will, we could actually
empower customers. (For further discussion of this issue, see Ambur, 1999,
10. Annette Simmons says that "deep dialog" is the
key to overcoming fear and distrust in order to create a "safe place for
dangerous truths" in the workplace. While acknowledging that small lies
are the grease and social grace of polite interchange, she characterizes
"dangerous truths" as those that are important. She outlines five stages
She notes that dialog is "thinking, not doing" and that workgroups should
not dialog too often. In response to a question from the author, she indicated
that once a month or once a quarter may be appropriate. Thus, it is clear
that her definition of deep dialog is different than what Savage has in
mind for the interaction among companies and their customers. Savage suggests:
politeness and pretending;
chaos and dissension;
discovery and redefining, which she calls the "groan zone," where people
need to reconsider their false assumptions (tacit knowledge);
resolution, characterized by a "new composite of reality"; and
closure, at which time the group returns to its routine, hopefully, enriched
by a new and mutual understanding of deep truths.
We can flounder in the separation of thinking and doing or engage in
the integrative process of continual creativity. We can remain isolated
... or seek out the capabilities and aspirations of one another ... (p.
However, to a large degree the distinction appears to be grounded in the
practical limitations on the means by which Simmons suggests that the dialog
be conducted - meetings in which groups of people gather together in the
same room for a period of about two hours. Such gatherings may indeed be
necessary and appropriate for the kind of deep dialog that, as she says,
"changes everything." However, they are a highly inefficient means for
establishing "moments of truth" among suppliers and customers in an ongoing
Simmons offers several other observations that are highly applicable
to the dynamics of KM:
However, countervailing against the latter point are the constraints of
time and access. Such limitations suggest that the most efficient and effective
means of "changing realities" is through authoritative documentation.
If people remain silent, they are able to maintain their belief in their
own truth as the Truth, with a capital T. That is, the validity of their
tacit knowledge is unchallenged. When they engage in open dialog, they
may discover the flaws in their personally held beliefs. Of course, the
same is true when their knowledge is made explicit in the form of documentation.
Truth is unpredictable, so it generates fear of the unknown.
In knowledge work, lack of candor diminishes productivity.
Social research has demonstrated that groups perform less well on tasks
than their most knowledgeable members perform individually, but if a bunch
of smart people work together efficiently and effectively, surely they
can do better together than alone.
Dialog is a means to "change our realities." It is much easier to change
our beliefs while they are merely thoughts in our heads (tacit) than after
they have been documented in hard-copy, much less embedded in products
(made increasingly more explicit).
Ms. Simmons is the author of A Safe Place For Dangerous Truths; Using
Dialogue To Overcome Fear & Distrust At Work. (May 1999) These
notes were compiled by the author from a seminar she conducted at the Department
of the Interior on July 16, 1999.
11. Savage says:
In the knowledge era, trust and integrity are critical... people [are
expected] to "push back" until the truth is known [and] to "do the right
thing." [However,] A few key people can torpedo a climate of trust and
integrity without even realizing what they have done. Integration efforts
are delicate and easily disrupted. (p. 258)
The need for truth and trust suggests the need for identification and authentication
of users and records, e.g., via X.500 directory services, digital signatures,
and X.509 digital certificates.
12. Skill is needed when tasks are difficult. As
an alternative, tasks can be simplified and facilitated, e.g., through
the use of tools and standards.
13. Peters teaches that "... the purpose of a business
is to create a customer." (in Savage, p. 175)
14. Being "open" to "discovering" one another's
capabilities and aspirations suggests the need to use a technical standard
for directory services, e.g., X.500. Anything else implies that the potential
alliance is not truly "open" but based upon a proprietary sandbox in which
one or the other player is expected to pay homage to the other.
15. For further discussion of customer focus and
the need for an international directory standard like X.500, see Ambur,
16. Two of the emerging standards for the Internet
are: 1) Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV), and 2) WebDAV
Searching and Locating (DASL). For further information on WebDAV and DASL,
see Ambur, 1999, April.
17. For further discussion of the need for metadata
standards for the management of documents, records, and knowledge, see
Ambur, 1999, April; Ambur, 1997, September; Ambur, 1996, November; and
the Fourth Wave Group's event report entitled "Using Metadata for Knowledge
Management: A Seminar Review," which is available at: http://www.fourthwavegroup.com/
18. In effect, the Workflow Management Coalition
(WfMC) is developing an open-systems technical standard for teamwork.
19. No doubt, mistrust impedes communication. However,
more mundane logistical issues related to the number of people and volume
of information involved, together with time constraints, would seem to
be larger factors in most cases. Trustworthiness cannot offset the problems
of information overload and technical complexity - except to the degree
that one can opt out of participating in the "team" based upon trust that
someone else has sufficient information and expertise to address the issue
at hand and to do so in a fashion that uphold the interests of the organization
(as well as the individual opting out).
To that degree, trust is not so much an issue for teamwork as it is
for delegation. In effect, teamwork is the converse of delegation. One
participates in the team because no one else can be trusted to uphold one's
position or fulfill one's role except the individual him/herself. Reliance
on tacit knowledge increases the imperative for participation because more
explicit means of ensuring trust are lacking.
20. Data without context is not "knowledge." Databases
contain data, not knowledge. Contrary the contentions of some, data warehouses
are not "knowledge repositories." In plain language, they are repositories
of data. The distinction is critical to an understanding of the requirements
for knowledge management.
21. Despite the inefficiencies, Liebowitz (p. iii)
notes: "Some people ... believe that 70% to 80% of what's learned is through
informal means versus formal methods like reading books, brochures, documents,
etc." Regardless of the precise number, the relative magnitude of the ratio
can be taken in two ways: 1) as a simple observation of fact about what
currently seems to work best, or 2) as an expression of the potential to
enhance the efficiency of learning through more formal means of classifying
and sharing explicit knowledge. To the degree that time is the critical
constraint, it seems unlikely that a case for greater efficiency could
be made by relying to a still further on less formal, "tacit" means to
22. In addition to speaking a common language (i.e.,
using the same terms, with exactly the same meanings), we empower each
other by using tools that are based upon open-systems technical standards
for interoperability (e.g., X.509, X.509, SQL, HTML, XML, WebDAV, DASL,
Z39.50, ODMA and DMA).
23. One of the criticisms of the international X.500
directory standard that has been raised by the apologists for proprietary
systems is that it is too complex. However, X.500 or something very much
like it is exactly what is needed to foster an "elegantly simple" virtual
knowledge management organization for enterprise earth.
24. Without apology for it, perhaps the X.500 standard
may be needlessly complex. In point of fact, it has thus far failed to
achieve broad market acceptance. However, the likelihood is that those
who took the time and effort to gain the knowledge to understand the underlying
requirements have simply raced too far ahead of the rest of us. Be that
as it may, trying to deny the need and to impose proprietary alternatives
is no substitute for implementing and using whatever components of the
standard that can be sustained with current understanding and expertise.
The emergence and widespread use of LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access
Protocol) is a hopeful step in the right direction toward sixth-generation
25. Many people would like to think that Microsoft,
for example, does not have the capability to "command external resources"
but it might be difficult to convince them that is so. On the other hand,
Savage himself suggests that "internal resources" - at least those of the
human variety - should not be "commanded" either. It might be said that
the "fine art of alliance building between peers" is equally applicable
within organizations as "without" them. (Pun intended. Both meanings apply.)
Thus, the real underlying issue is the value of the organization itself.
If it somehow facilitates the "art" of creating value, its existence may
be justified. If not, it is a drag on the realization of value to its stakeholders,
which is to say individual human beings. The rub is that the degree to
which companies create value for some of their stakeholders (e.g., managers
and owners) may not be balanced by the values created for their customers
and suppliers, as well as society at large. Antitrust laws are a primitive
instrument by which to balance the "competing" interests involved. Data,
networks, technology, documentation, and records offer a far greater potential
to make the essential factors "visible" and, thus, self-enforceable.
26. Davenport and Prusak report that some companies
are pursuing projects aimed at "... finding the person with the knowledge
one needs ..." (p. 139) And they assert "... the codification process for
the richest tacit knowledge in the organization is generally limited to
locating someone with the knowledge, pointing the seeker to it, and encouraging
them to interact." (p. 71) To the degree that one may know the name or
some other personal attribute of that person, the X.500 White Pages might
be a suitable means of locating him or her. However, the more likely scenario
is that the individual will be unknown. Often, in the case of massive bureaucratic
organizations like that which comprises "we the people of the United States
of America," neither the office nor its location will be known. Thus, the
best means of connecting people with those who have the necessary functional
expertise is an international directory service like the X.500 Blue Pages.
(See Ambur, 1997, December.)
27. Under the auspices of the Association for Information
and Image Management (AIIM), the Document Management Alliance (DMA) is
establishing standards for interoperability among electronic document management
systems. Such standards are necessary to avoid reliving the mistakes of
the past in building information silos that lead inevitably and simultaneously
to two outcomes: 1) proprietary IT dead ends for organizations, and 2)
needlessly restricted access to "captured" (recorded) knowledge in the
form of documents and (as the techies would say) document-like "objects".
28. For a somewhat more complete and clearer discussion
of the critical success factors (CSFs) for "discussion databases," see
Ambur, 1996, May.
29. Savage provides several metrics demonstrating
the potential for efficiency gains:
Larry English, author of Improving Data Warehousing and Business Information
Quality, Methods for Reducing Costs and Increasing Profits, argues:
... three-fourths of a typical company's resources are used to transform
information about products and processes and one-fourth to transform raw
materials into finished goods... (p. 191)
... 70 to 90 percent of the knowledge needed to run the enterprise ...
is still in our heads. (p. 194)
Depending upon the industry, the typical cost of direct labor is now 2
to15 percent of total costs... organizations are overstaffed ... layer
upon layer of paper pushers and report expediters make the organization
sluggish and unresponsive ... Suppose, instead, we were to think of ourselves
and our position within the organization not as fixed little empires, but
as resources available to others... as knowledge contributors and decision
points ... (p. 195)
Data residing in a single database has more than 43 times the value
of the same data in 43 redundant databases. The redundancy actually diminishes
its value because of the costs to capture [and] interface it 43 times coupled
with the costs of inconsistent data that will occur in unmanaged information
[English quote taken from "Architecture Program" on the General Services
Administration's Web site, at http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mke/archplus/policyplace.htm]
30. Ambur (1998, July 8) made a similar argument
in a paper entitled "Persistence, Parallelism, and RISC: What Smart, Enterprising
People and Organizations Can Learn from the Architecture of Dumb Machines,"
which is available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/Persist.html
31. What could be more routine than "pattern recognition"?
"Pattern" is a synonym for "routine."
32. In order to uncover "dangerous truths," Simmons
suggests that we should "befriend polarization."
33. Balla concludes:
With every release of Microsoft Office, Windows NT and Exchange, Microsoft
is moving closer and closer to providing a platform that organizations
can use as an infrastructure for their KM initiative. Microsoft has even
announced a major focus on KM for its upcoming product versions... thanks
to Microsoft's marketing muscle, the KM industry will become legitimized
34. Evaluating KM products from nine vendors, Balla,
Harty, and Andrews (1999) identify the "functional areas of KM" as: gather,
contribute, distribute/deliver, collaborate, and refine.