Q1- What is KM for?

In mid-2004, I facilitated a Knowledge Management workshop for Malaysian educators at the SEAMEO INNOTECH. During coffee break in the hallway, I met a Bangladeshi gentleman attending another workshop. As our conversation veered towards September 11, I can sense that he is a fan of Osama bin Laden. He asked me, “What do you think of President George W. Bush?” I paused for a while and said:

    “The two sides share many things in common:
    1. Each believes that he is right and the other is wrong.
    2. Both Al Qaeda and the US Pentagon use knowledge management or KM (Al Qaeda uses networking, websites, technology, manuals and how-to’s, hands-on training, mentoring; its leaders may not call what they are doing KM, but nevertheless these are all KM tools).
    3. Both use violence.

    I think the two are perfect for each other.”

He thought for a long while before we could resume our conversation.

What then is KM for? In my KM Framework or F Series of blogposts, I proposed a simple framework that shows the fundamental connection between knowledge and action, and between action and results desired by the actor. I provided examples of how to apply the framework in various situations.

It is the actor (who is the conscious or unconscious user of knowledge and KM) who defines what intended result is valuable to him or her. KM is for value creation, and what is valuable is defined by the user. Now, what is valuable to one may be harmful to another — the current conflict in the Gaza Strip is a dramatic reminder. There are mild versions of this gap: in community development, what are valuable to the community do not exactly coincide with what are valuable to the donor institution.

Can KM be used to address these issues? If so, how? Is KM only for value creation, or can KM be used also for value destruction? Is this a problem of KM, or is this a problem beyond KM?

Are we missing anything in the above story and analysis? Are there other ways of viewing this issue? Are we asking the right questions?

What do you think?


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8 Responses to “Q1- What is KM for?”

  1. Swan Says:

    Interesting post. Information can either be used to justify a desired action or to help make a decision. In the former case, one can segment out just the information that supports the desired action. In the latter case, a broad understanding helps make the best decision.

    Hopefully, that will be one of the major differences between the Bush and the Obama administrations. The question remains will Obama swing too far into analysis paralysis. So far he has seemed thoughtful, yet decisive.

    Keep up the great thoughts and thx for linking out to the Future Business Blog: http://swanthinks.wordpress.com

  2. apintalisayon Says:

    I see a parallel in the corporate sector.

    Most companies use KM to support production of the same product/service (I call this “operational KM” = KM to support a pre-determined outcome)

    But high-growth, innovative companies use KM to look for better products/services or better business models (I call this “strategic KM” = KM to look for better outcomes).

    The difference lies in the ability and willingness to reexamine one’s goals (and change them if warranted). It seems to me Obama is better at this than Bush. Like Abraham Lincoln, Obama listens to different or contrary opinions – which happens in a “team of rivals” that Obama is now putting together.

    Cheers, Swan!

    What do the others think?

  3. Kytt Mier Says:

    KM can be applied at the individual level; it can also be applied at the group level. I’d imagine KM for group action would be much more complex than that for individual decision-making and this is because there will be need for some kind of ‘levelling off’ of complementary and/or conflicting interests/needs among the individual members of the group. If the group is a family of four, the ‘levelling off’ needed will be much simpler than one for a nation of 90 million persons.

    What’s interesting is that the ‘levelling off’ within Osama’s group has managed to resonate with his co-religionists worldwide resulting in consistent but devastating decisions/actions like the most recent one in Mumbai. Meanwhile, there seems to be no ‘levelling off’ in the West, much less in the US itself resulting in what many Americans themselves believe to be wrong decisions by the Bush Administration. Some would claim that there is hope with Obama’s election as President, but any corrective action will take time even assuming that the entire US polity agrees with his policy thrusts.

    Osama’s goal of returning Islam to its original purity and removing everything along its path that is corrupted by wrong doctrine (Shiite teachings, etc.) or materialism (influence of the Western consumerism) or the unjust occupation of Muslim lands (US/Western occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and US bases in Saudi Arabia) has found a place in the hearts and minds of Muslims all over the world, enough to push them into resolute action.

    Obama would need all the energy, time and luck to be able to craft and deliver a statement that will move Americans and the rest of the world to face up to the challenge of pushing humankind forward and upward the quality scale of human survival. Somehow, he needs to show everyone that humanity has learned from experience that certain survival moves motivate people to create/share value/wealth much better than other approaches. He also needs to convince everybody that aspects of the West’s survival moves that have proven to be deleterious to human comfort and dignity can and will be corrected.

    The ‘levelling off’ process, I suppose, is a sub-process of KM that deals with how goals are formulated, and how visions are communicated. It is also a process that has a lot to do with culture and how this is handled by leaders of society in order to understand and connect with everyone else therein.

    Just thinking aloud. 🙂

  4. Kytt Mier Says:

    “It is the actor (who is the conscious or unconscious user of knowledge and KM) who defines what intended result is valuable to him or her. KM is for value creation, and what is valuable is defined by the user.”

    Additional ‘thinking aloud’ based on above-cited quotation from Q1:

    Within a group (corporation or nation), who defines or determines the ‘intended result that is valuable’?

    One steeped in corporate life would immediately say the ‘intended result that is valuable’ can easily be determined in a strategic planning exercise that must involve not only the rank-and-file, but also the consumers and suppliers of the company. Governments have their way of working this out too, with varying degrees of success. In both sectors, especially when the company or the nation has had a long history, threshing out the ‘intended result that is valuable’ to everyone is facilitated by commonalities in language, shared experience and sometimes, a well-defined and well articulated vision statement.

    How about for two entities in a region that are battling it out for survival as with the example in Q1? Who undertakes KM that both parties will respect if the ‘intended result that is valuable’ resulting from each party’s own KM is diametrically opposed? Can arbitration, mediation or conflict management in general by a third party be considered KM of a higher order? If such efforts are successful, they will create the value of peaceful coexistence and destroy the value of ‘an-eye-for-an-eye …’


  5. apintalisayon Says:

    Kytt, you have stated clearly the world problematique we are all facing. The diametrically opposed values in the Gaza Strip is part of this.

    The UN is a mechanism to generate consensus on “universal values” e.g. human rights, but is it an effective mechanism now for mediating (or preventing) conflicts that basically stem from opposed values? Is it feasible to reform the UN, and replace the US as the de facto “world policeman”? Or, what is the most feasible way to reform the UN?

    What was the key lessons in the successful levelling-off of competing values that Kahane described in South Africa before Mandela (mentioned in the Introduction to the Q series)? Can we apply these lessons at the global scale?

    Thanks Kytt! Are we beginning to ask the right questions here?

    What do the others think?

  6. Kytt Mier Says:

    The example of a successful levelling-off in South Africa described by Kahane may not exactly be parallel to that of the levelling-off among the European countries right after World War II (facilitated by Monnet and Schuman) which led to the European Community (now European Union), but these two events/processes led to solutions that the United Nations was supposed to achieve as an institution. Just shows that man-made institutions like the UN (and the League of Nations before it) may not be the best mechanisms for preventing/solving conflicts such as Apartheid and World Wars.

    I haven’t read Kahane’s book yet so I can’t discuss the lessons from the levelling-off in South Africa. However, I’d like to believe that in the midst of fear and mistrust existing then, there were a number of courageous men and women from both sides that hoped, believed and acted in a way that led to Mandela and the dismantling of Apartheid. Another element present would be an awareness (knowledge) of the great cost inflicted on South African society (and to humanity itself) by Aparheid.

    In a war ravaged Europe, the toll on human lives and national wealth was all too obvious. This was the ideal condition that Monnet and Schuman exploited so as to get support for the joint management of industrial raw materials and technology that were previously applied in the service of war.

    Is it possible that humankind is destined to learn its lessons the hard way?


  7. apintalisayon Says:

    The League of Nations was motivated by the painful painful experiences of WW I, but it failed: motive was OK but the solution was not. It took another WW II to launch the UN: same motive and the solution was OK… for a while, it seems. So, what is a better solution than present UN? Do we need another WW III to get us there? A WW III would be more technologically terrifying and costly. Are the actions of US-Israel versus Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah leading us towards this terrible pathway? What if richer China and/or prouder Russia join Iran later etc. etc.? Such a “clash of civilizations” might be the final judgment that the human species is a self-destructive and terminally defective species?

    Thanks again, Kytt.

    What do the others think?

  8. Brad Elias Says:

    Kytt, you have not changed at all. I salute your ideas and views. Keep up the intellectual but good work.

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