If you are, please let us know via the comments below what is on your KM reading list.
If you are not, we need to talk.
When I first began to work in knowledge management, I eagerly sought out as many KM books as I could find and then dutifully read them. They were awful. It’s not that the authors did not have something useful to say. The issue was that I was not ready to listen to them. In part this was because I did not have the vocabulary to understand what they were saying. However, the bigger problem was that I lacked sufficient experience in KM to appreciate the lessons those authors were trying to teach me. So I slammed those books shut, put them on the shelf to gather dust, and set about to be a knowledge manager.
After a few years of KM work, I noticed an interesting pattern. When I found myself dealing with one challenge or another, I would say to myself, “Surely someone else has encountered this issue and solved it already.” After this happened a few times, it occurred to me that those dusty KM books might contain some insights. So I pulled them down from the bookshelf, blew off the dust, opened the books, started reading, and discovered…answers! Not just answers, but amazingly useful answers.
What changed? I finally had both the vocabulary to understand what the authors were saying AND the experience to appreciate what they were saying.
So now I find myself reading and re-reading KM books, and find the time well-spent.
If you would like to replicate this experience, let me recommend Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak (affiliate link). Written by two of the early thinkers in KM, this book provides a great introduction to the discipline, as well some useful warnings about the mistakes we make when we do not learn from the experience of others. With the benefit of some KM victories and challenges under my belt, I now find that parts of their book that could have been written for me or for the organizations I have worked with. Here’s an example:
Too often, knowledge transfer has been confined to such concepts as improved access, electronic communication, document repositories, and so forth. We believe it is time for firms to shift their attention to the more human aspects — from access to attention, from velocity to viscosity, from documents to discussions. Obviously, firms need to exploit both the hard and soft aspects of knowledge transfer, but in the Western business culture there are usually too few advocates of the soft stuff. [p. 106]
It took me several months of working in KM to figure this out for myself, yet unbeknownst to me Davenport & Prusak had written about it a couple years before my own epiphany. Think of the pain I could have spared myself if I had only read their book earlier. For this reason, I go back and re-read their book regularly. And I find new gems hidden there every time.
So what KM book or books are you reading? Please share your recommendations in the comments section. You might inspire a colleague and save them a boatload of pain.
[This blog post was inspired by a discussion on the Leonard Lopate show (January 28, 2016) during which Jane Smiley, Philip Lopate, Leonard Lopate and several listeners talked about the books they re-read and the value they obtain from reading those books over and over again. If you are looking for some non-KM reading, I recommend that episode of the show to you.)