The four most dangerous words in KM

There are four dangerous words you hear a lot when introducing KM. Here’s how to respond to them.

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“This organisation is different”

Those are the four words, and they usually appear in this context.

  • “Here is a story about how knowledge management helps organisations like this one”
  • “Yes it might work in that story, but our organisation is different; why should it work here?”
Sometimes it gets silly;
  • “Here is how KM works in legal firms”
  • “Yes, but those examples are all from large legal firms – we are different”
  • “Well, here’s a small legal firm using KM”
  • “Yes, but that’s a US firm and we are Canadian. We are different”
  • and so on
This comeback is one of the 5 most common objections to KM, and you hear it from senior managers when talking about KM at organisational level, and you hear something similar from project managers when talking about KM at project level (“We can’t learn from the past – this project is different“).

These are very dangerous words

They represent at best a closed attitude, and at worst a fundamental unwillingness to learn – a sort of arrogance, almost.  In a way they are true – every organisation is different. But on the other hand, every organisation is the same; all are made up of people who have to make decisions, and who need knowledge to make those decisions.
The way to address this argument is not to tackle it head-on – not to say “No, you are not different, you are just the same as everyone else” – but to start to discuss the details of when KM might be needed. For example;
  • “OK, you are different. Let’s explore a bit how you use knowledge in your unique organisation. Give me an example of when your people might really need access to knowledge”
  • “Well, it’s important to us to win work. When our people are in front of the client, and the client asks if we have any experience with a particular sort of project, it would be good if our people knew the answer so they could reassure the client”
  • “That’s a good example. How do they get that knowledge at the moment?”
  • “They need to know it already. That’s why we only send out most experienced people on client visits”
  • “What difference would it make if all your people had that knowledge at their fingertips?”
  • “We could make a lot more pitches and presentations, and I think we would see an increase in win rate”
  • “Would you like to hear how other companies have made that possible?”

The point is that every organisation is different, but the problems and issues they face are much the same, and when those problems are knowledge-related, KM can help.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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