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Leveraged Knowledge Management

LeverageSeveral years ago, I was called on by a multinational producer of hygiene, food, and cleaning products to pay a visit to their research and information centre. My role was to play editorial consultant for content for their new Intranet.

You see, the company had lots of researchers in one building who were working hard on non-stick ice cream and insect-deterring shaving gel, while the information team were in a separate building trawling patents and fishing for pertinent technology news. Unfortunately, the two teams worked a different shift system and rarely met, and even when they did meet, they didn’t have much to say to each other. One group were more concerned with the latest formulation change that might result in a shift in rheological properties for a new cheese-and-chocolate pie filling or a non-grip floor cleaner, while the other group were interested only in assessing prior art or working out Boolean strings for searching databases.

The new Intranet would, however, bring the two groups together. The system would provide regularly updated news and information about what each team was doing, forums for discussing ways to improve efficiency and, most importantly, offer them an area where ideas might be mashed up to help each see the possibilities of the other’s efforts. It would be pretty much an internal version of what we now know as online social networking. And, as with many mashups we see these days would, the reasoning went, allow the company to come up with novel products and marketing strategies based on the two sides of their knowledge.

At the heart of the solution was the concept of knowledge management. Indeed, the person in charge had KM somewhere in his job title and, unfortunately, the word leverage was also in his job description. [This post's title is meant to be ironic, in case you didn't spot it, db]

Now, before this consultancy work, I had not come across the abbreviation KM, nor the phrase knowledge management and had certainly never wittingly used the word leverage. To my mind it sounded like nothing more than market-speak. Nevertheless, I quickly worked out what it was meant to mean and undertook the task with my usual level of workaholic diligence.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my perspective on KM. But, more to the point many people are unaware of the fact that the stuff with which they work is labelled knowledge and that they can manage it nevertheless. In fact, that’s the main conclusion from a paper entitled: “Dimensions of KM: they know not it’s called knowledge…but they can manage it!” published today in the International Journal of Teaching and Case Studies recently (2008, 1, 253).

In that paper, Sonal Minocha a senior manager at Raffles University, Singapore, and George Stonehouse of the Napier University Business School, Craiglockhart Campus, in Edinburgh, UK, have explored how for business students the concept of knowledge is a fascinating one as most of them wonder what is encompassed within “knowledge management” for it to be a subject. Yet these same students, can manage knowledge almost without needing to know precisely what KM is. Perhaps that finding extends into the workplace too. Indeed, following a case study involving the fall and rise of a major vehicle manufacturer the researchers come to the following conclusion:

Competitive advantage, however, depends upon the creation of new knowledge, based upon this learning, centred upon the development of new business, new ways of doing business, improved customer and supplier relationships, and the development and leverage of new knowledge-based core competencies.

Aside from the use of the word leverage and phrases like core competencies, that seems to be a fair conclusion.

Well, by now you may be wondering what happened to that proto-social network pioneered by the manufacturer of anti-shark surfboard wax and child-repellent screen cleaners. My consultancy work lasted a week during which time, I’m not proud to say, I taught the management team a thing or two about how not to flip a flip-chart and almost blinded the team leader with a laser pointer.

At the end of the week, we had a fairly solid outline for how to proceed with the new networking system. Unfortunately, the staff member in charge of the KM project to bring the research and information people together was leveraged out of the company soon after; for reasons unrelated to the incident with the flipchart and laser pointer, I should add.

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