Making the Case for KM: One Magic Washing Machine at a Time

Servis Superheat Washing Machine Poster (Poster 21)In a world run by bean counters, knowledge managers sometimes fear that they will get short shrift if they cannot marshal the data necessary to impress the folks in green eyeshades. The problem is, of course, that it can be challenging to find compelling metrics to support the case for KM. In the context of law firm knowledge management, we often say that KM done well helps lawyers work more efficiently and effectively.  But has anyone at your firm produced recent data to support this proposition?

This comparative lack of data has always made me uncomfortable.  We may shrug and say that trying to prove KM ROI is a fool’s errand, but that doesn’t always dispel the lingering discomfort. Consequently, I was heartened to receive a reminder this week from a master of data, Dr. Hans Rosling, of the value and limitations of data. Dr. Rosling is famous for making data sing. If you want an impressive demonstration of his abilities, take a look at his four-minute video below: 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes – the Joy of Stats.  By any measure, it’s a tour de force. Unfortunately, it isn’t one I could reasonably replicate standing before the executive committee of my firm.

So what is to be done?

Draw inspiration from Dr. Rosling’s most recent TED Talk about the Magic Washing Machine.  In  his usual fashion, he presents a stunning array of data relating to global population, income distribution and energy consumption.  All of it is interesting, however, the statistical pyrotechnics are slightly depressing for a data-challenged knowledge manager like me.  But then suddenly, at the 7:50 minute mark, he explains the magic of washing machines and does so without a single data point. Rather, he relies on anecdote and illustration to make his point very powerfully. At the end of the presentation, I remembered his explanation of the magic, not the specifics of the  data he provided during the bulk of the presentation.

When making the case for KM, don’t ever underestimate the power of storytelling.  In truth, Dr. Rosling’s greatest strength is his ability to tell a compelling story.  That story may be grounded in data, but it’s the narrative line rather than the scientific detail that remains in your memory.  You don’t need to be statistician or magician to pull this off.  Rather, you just need to be able to recognize —  and tell — a good story.

200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – the Joy of Stats:


Dr. Hans Rosling and the Magic Washing Machine:

[Hat tip to Michael Mills of Neota Logic Inc. for sending me Hans Rosling’s TED talk on the Magic Washing Machine.  Hat tip to Evangeline Warren and Mark Salamon for sending me Dr. Rosling’s talk on the Joy of Stats.]

[Photo Credit:  Black Country Museums]

3 thoughts on “Making the Case for KM: One Magic Washing Machine at a Time

  1. Interesting and enjoyable read! I agree with what you are saying here, but ultimately we have to demonstrate value if we are going to promote, and demonstrate the worth of KM. Stories are a good start, just as long as they link to strategic aims and objectives…because this is where we need to associate ourselves and our KM practices…with success that links to wider organisational outcomes. And thank you for the link…

    1. David –

      You're absolutely right about the need to show the link between KM and an
      organization's aims, objectives …and results. In organizations in which
      it is hard to show a causal link between KM and results, or where the KM
      program is very young, stories can be a helpful way to make an important
      point about the value of KM, even in the absence of data.

      – Mary

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑