The Road Not Taken

Those of us who chase knowledge for a living have learned the hard way that our target frequently is elusive and the available tools and methods are not always adequate. Despite this, we do strive to identify and follow the best route for achieving the knowledge management goals set by our firms.  In a prior post, Off-Route, Recalculate, I wrote about how the current economic situation was forcing those of us in law firm knowledge management to recalculate our KM routes.  I also noted how difficult this recalculation was in the absence of any available KM global positioning system (or GPS) capable of suggesting viable alternative routes.

In response, Mark Gould recounted in Direction-finding how truly helpful his own car satellite navigation system was, and suggested that we could provide a similar navigation service for our external and internal clients:

This conversation made me think about extending the metaphor in a slightly different direction. As lawyers, we can be compared to navigation assistance for clients. They are the ones who specify the ultimate destination, and lawyers (together with other advisors) suggest different routes to get there, and keep things on track if diversions are made (whether those diversions are necessary or frivolous). Within law firms, those supporting KM and other internal activities need to adopt a similar role. Admittedly, our advisory role can be very different from that of a GPS system — we can influence the decision about the destination itself as well as the route taken to get there — but ultimately we have to respect the client’s choice of destination. This means that our advice should not be tainted by regret that a different destination was not chosen or that the business prefers to use back-roads rather than pay the tolls on the autostrade.

I’m struck by Mark’s observation that while we can suggest routes, we are not ultimately responsible for the choices made by our clients.  Our job is to identify the viable alternatives, make a recommendation and then, once the client has made a choice, do our level best to ensure an optimal outcome for the client.  It really isn’t terribly productive to spend a lot of time and energy mourning the road not taken.  Admittedly, it’s hard to work enthusiastically knowing that we don’t entirely agree with the client’s choice, but I guess that’s why they call it work.

While we’ve probably come to the end of the useful applications of this metaphor, I thought I would close by drawing on the wisdom of Robert Frost.  As he noted with such insight, while we may not always fully understand the choices before us, we should not foreclose the possibilities inherent in the road less traveled by.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– “The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

[Photo Credit: Joaaso]

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4 thoughts on “The Road Not Taken

  • May 8, 2009 at 3:57 am
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    I was redirected here from a conversation on friendfeed. It would have been better the other way around, maybe. Demonstrating that all roads lead to Rome… 😉

    It seems to me that the point being made — mainly that while we can suggest alternate routes, it's ultimately the client's responsibility to make choices, and then ours to accompany the client along the road — is valid for consulting in general: Our role is to inform and guide our clients, to support them in both their decision-making and in execution afterwards. Our role certainly is NOT to decide and execute/operate on behalf of the client!

    One of our consulting principles should always be that we lead our clients to become autonomous (meaning they won't need us in the long-term). Unfortunately, some of the larger consultancies have consistently and repeatedly violated this principle…

    @cdn

  • May 13, 2009 at 9:08 am
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    Christian –

    I agree that knowledge managers within a firm often assume the role of internal consultant and, thus, are subject to the decisions of their clients. However, knowledge managers are also held accountable to the firm for the knowledge management systems they design and implement. It rarely matters to the firm that the key (questionable) decision was made by the internal clients. Therefore, knowledge managers are all too often forced to make the best of a bad situation. They don't have the ability of external consultants to disassociate themselves from the results of implementation.

    – Mary

  • May 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm
    Permalink

    Christian –

    I agree that knowledge managers within a firm often assume the role of internal consultant and, thus, are subject to the decisions of their clients. However, knowledge managers are also held accountable to the firm for the knowledge management systems they design and implement. It rarely matters to the firm that the key (questionable) decision was made by the internal clients. Therefore, knowledge managers are all too often forced to make the best of a bad situation. They don't have the ability of external consultants to disassociate themselves from the results of implementation.

    – Mary

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