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For some time I’m working on the KM integration of Strategy& (former Booz & Company) with PwC and I can say there is more than finance about this acquisition. They are good. PwC has probably acquired the best in strategy consulting.

You can make your own mind by having a look at their magazine – strategy+business (s+b). Forbes nominated it among the top 25 websites for CEOs and its readership now spans more than 1,000,000 business leaders around the world. The magazine publishes ideas from chief executives, prominent business thinkers, academics from leading universities, and subject matter specialists from across the PwC network.

In s+b‘s latest reader survey, 90% of respondents reported taking action after reading an s+b article. You may also find it to be an insightful resource.



Ford’s production lines have marked a turning point in human history. Business had to change and whoever did not understand the need for automation and series production was to be crushed by industrialization itself. After nearly 100 years, Skandia marked the official beginning of “the knowledge era”: Leif Edvinson was hired in the early 90’s as a CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) in order to capitalize intangible assets of the organization. At Skandia’s size, it was obvious that there were a lot of resources wasted and they spent a lot of time “reinventing the wheel” rather than facilitating transfer of expertise, innovation, lessons learned – in a word, knowledge.

Two years ago I began to work on “capitalizing” knowledge in a territory stretching from northern countries to South Africa and from UK to India which made me look with great interest on this topic. I found that knowledge management is perceived differently from one company to another (with some elements in common) and what works in some parts of the world as formal structure has no relevance in another cultural environment. Also, the literature is divided, sometimes the KM (knowledge management) function being located in the organizational chart somewhere similar to internal audit, sometimes subordinating it to the CEO, Business Development or, in early literature, integrated or confused with IT.

Out of the box

Only after I began to think “out of the box”, I understood that knowledge management comes in fact to maintain the organization’s brain, to keep it active, to develop it so the organization is able to work and innovate. Organizations that have dysfunctional knowledge management begin to suffer the same effects that the Alzheimer disease has on human brain: intellectual abilities are lost, even reach inability to think abstractly, the coordination is limited, and they have trouble performing daily activities. As a result initiatives become increasingly rare till they disappear completely.

Since the evolution is similar to an organization’s brain, I named this disease Knowledgeheimer. Thinking about an organization as a patient appeared to be making more sense to me when dealing with knowledge management. Knowledgeheimer allowed me to identify knowledge management problems without being limited by structures, tools and frameworks.

Ethernal Youth

Organizations can live longer than people who created them, and the disappearance of founders should not bankrupt the companies they founded. The most important condition to avoid such major danger is a healthy organisational brain that leads to effective coordination and the capacity to constantly adapt the business to the realities of the time. As organizations grow, the “brain” is no longer a person or a group, but rather the result of collective intelligence.

Knowledgeheimer is very sensitive to some risk factors and advanced age is one of them. However, Knowledgeheimer is not necessarily installed due to the passage of time, but to the inability to utilize and share knowledge. Organizations can stay young as long as they keep an active brain, responsive to internal and external stimuli.

Although they do not solve the problem, investments in distribution systems and retention of information, collaboration platforms within the organization and between organizations and customers are a turning point. Without them, Knowledgeheimer is already installed. However, creating an organizational culture that encourages knowledge sharing and teamwork is the essential driver so that investment in technology is not in vain.

Any organization needs information from external sources as no one has complete ownership of all the knowledge in this world. Lack of access to external information sources and lack of an external performance assessment is also one of the causes of Knowledgeheimer. The effect is breaking out of reality which leads to schizoid behaviour and functional retardation.

Prevention and treatment. About Steve Jobs’ toilets.

In 1991, Knowledgeheimer’s treatment involved maximizing the organization’s intangible assets. Later, however, innovation was in the forefront of concerns – materialised into projects like Skandia Future Centre, a prototype to test the operation of new methods of capitalization of knowledge and, in particular, human intelligence within the organization. The basic principle was to stimulate new ideas and creative processes. This successful project was then replicated by the Ministry of Finance in Denmark with what they called “Mindlab”. However, as I said, the need for specific medications leads to the need of each organization to open its own lab.

Sometimes treatment methods relate to patients’ creativity. For instance, Steve Jobs has been criticized by employees that he moved water dispensers and toilets in the middle of the building. In this way, each of them was forced to get out of their own perimeter. Discussions from the water dispenser often end with views of company processes and products. This soon led to an informal environment for expression of collective intelligence.

Just as with Alzheimer’s, to combat Knowledgeheimer, the organization’s brain should be looked at consistently and intentionally, in a pro-active manner. Access to knowledge retention and its capitalization should be part of the daily workflow.

A look into the future

I’m reluctant to “one size fits all” when it comes to knowledge management. I believe in the individuality of each organization and believe that a keyword for the future of knowledge management is “creativity”. Approaches will have to be creative, even if they are based on similar tools: databases, networking platforms, expertise location, or collaboration systems for communities of practice. Knowledgeheimer is already the most common form of organisational dysfunction and, if not treated properly, worsens as it progresses, eventually leading to death. As we become more and more knowledge-driven societies, its incidence is increasing from year to year.

Article published by Money Magazine, July 2012 edition. Click here for the original printed version.

Where does KM fit in?

Open Knowledge
Image by okfn via Flickr

At the end of the 90’s, KM challenges were addressed through technology-based solutions. When you told someone about KM, they would reply with a tool or a software-driven initiative; usually a corporate-wide one. It took a few years to find out that an IT project would not solve the need of knowledge and would not necessarily improve knowledge sharing culture within company.

Later on, KM was perceived not along with IT but rather with HR. To comply with both, a key message soon became that organizations have to acknowledge people over technology as the active protagonists in knowledge-sharing. And now we come to the next step: processes. KM later was associated to managing processes and understanding the knowledge flow. So, where does KM fit in at the end? Does it need a separate entity? Should it be part of something else?

After reviewing a large number of situations, reports and statistics, I see that there are two situations:

  1. KM is perceived as a response to a strategic need (especially after the downturn) that often even remains unidentified. They call it somehow else but they are trying to manage knowledge flows, have a knowledge-sharing culture and even build some IT if necessary. As KM is not defined, it’s not even called that way.


  1. Top management perceives KM as something they “must do” to be ahead of competition. They say they are engaged to harmonizing knowledge-sharing processes across the organization but the exact reasons why they are strategically implementing KM is still not very clear. As KM is defined, it is established as an individual separate entity from other organisational structures.

So, again, where does KM fit in? Any experience is different but here might be similarities we can work on to better understand how this is developing.

KM Democracy: would a Parliament’s structure improve company knowledge management?

Prix du Sénat du livre d'Histoire
Image by Sénat via Flickr

At the heart of Eureka Forbes’ approach is the EuroSenate, a 14-member body of elected representatives – one for each of Eureka Forbes’ 14 strategic business units, or geographic zones. The Senators and their Councillors have a clear mandate. They are to be the emissaries of the head office in the zones, and the conduit between knowledge workers and headquarters.

A three-member council, also elected from the strategic business units, assists the 14 representatives, called Senators. The 42 Councillors and the 14 Senators report to six Governors – regional heads of the company. There is also a President, Speaker and a Senate Administration Committee (for details see “How Eureka Forbes Uses Indian Parliamentary Model to Connect with its Staff,” Labonita Ghosh, The Economics Times, November 12, 2010).

What do you think?

  • How would such a structure improve knowledge management?
  • Would that work efficiently in your company? Why?
  • What other models would you suggest?

Challenges of today’s knowledge management: providing the tools is just not enough

knowledge share fair 2009 - fishbowl demonstration
Image by Petr Kosina via Flickr

Genuine business value comes on one hand from managing knowledge acquired from external sources and, on the other hand, from creating and exchanging it internally. Keeping knowledge in the heads of your most experienced talent lowers your return on investment to its minimum. How can other colleagues from the same unit or even other territories replicate and improve it? Well, there are two stages of this point:

Stage 1: Your experienced talent has to invest time and energy to transform their knowledge into a form in which it can be exchanged. I should also say that the value of knowledge should be high enough to cover the cost of sharing.

Stage 2: Team members from similar projects invest time in searching for knowledge, replicating and improving it. They might as well become “Stage 1” experts as the improved knowledge may be shared if there is significant added value. I should mention again that at this stage, in order to be cost-effective, knowledge should worth the price of seeking it.

You can call it a market and in some companies it literally is. Maybe at a later time I’ll come back with a story of a company that pays employees with its own currency for sharing knowledge and charges knowledge consumption – a way to determine talent to share at least as much knowledge as they benefit of.

You may observe that there is a strong technological background for knowledge sharing but I’m not going to refer to this side for the time being. I’d rather have a look at one of the most common management mistakes we face on the process today. The trap is to assume that with some big investments in technology solutions such as document management systems, shared repositories, and intranets, employees will become eager to put their knowledge in the internal marketplace.

Investments in technology alone are useless because of two basic reasons:

Firstly, your talent may not be so eager to share what they know. In many cases that is merely because they know their knowledge is their strongest asset in the corporate hierarchy. You have to motivate them to share. They have to realize that the value of sharing is worth their own investment.

Secondly, most of shared knowledge may not be some of the best quality it can be. Volume of irrelevant documents may become overwhelming, and you may find many of them of poor quality and hard to replicate. Controlling both the quality of shared knowledge and the usefulness of the search systems is an imperative to ensure that shared knowledge is worth the price of seeking it.

Both centralised and decentralised approached to knowledge management can bring value to your business; it really depends on what your business is about and how knowledge is created or where it is most relevant. Distributing top-down messages about previously filtered knowledge has its limitations but can work in a process-focused risk averse company.  At the opposite, letting local units solve their own knowledge problems may bring enthusiasm and motivation to highly creative businesses with a focus on local markets rather than on the global one. Approaches have pluses and minuses and, most likely, a company may be in the position of having a mix of both.