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Debunking the 3 Myths of Knowledge Management

By:  Laurence Smith, HP Knowledge Architect and Transformation Consultant


I often run across 3 myths that customers have regarding knowledge management. Because these myths seem so prevalent, I want to debunk these fallacies, which include:HP KM Model.jpg


Myth #1 – You can’t measure the value of knowledge

Myth #2 – You can’t capture knowledge

Myth #3 - Knowledge management is about people, not IT


Today, I’ll discuss the first myth but before I begin, I want to define what I mean by “knowledge” (distinct from “information” and “data”); otherwise I have no chance of debunking any myth that uses the same term.


“Knowledge” is an “asset” that we use to make effective decisions quickly and consistently. An “internal process” that guides us to seek out the most relevant data and information (and people, i.e., sources of knowledge) for the most desirable outcomes. Whether it is how to diagnose and fix a problem, execute a process, write a sales proposal, or produce an Enterprise Architecture, knowledge leads me towards the best decision. As my colleague Stuart Rance says in his post titled “6 steps to get started with knowledge management,”the only knowledge that is of any value is the knowledge in someone’s head that helps them make decisions and deliver services.” However, it is possible to make some knowledge assets explicit so that they can be used by many individuals to make decisions.



It is possible to measure the outcomes of using knowledge


I can measure the outcomes of my decisions, e.g., “Did this resolution (=decision) fix the customer’s problem?” or “Did this proposal lead to a successful bid?” In both examples, the “knowledge asset” is an “internal process” that was followed in identifying the resolution and constructing the proposal.


When I use a knowledge asset to make a decision that leads to a favourable and measurable result, I can rightly assert that it helped me achieve the desired outcome. If that knowledge asset happened to be “tacit” (inside my head), then I could attribute it to my “experience.” However, if the knowledge asset is in an explicit form, such as in a well-structured document, a rule base, or a decision tree, then I should reach the same conclusion. In practice though, this often doesn’t happen and the credit is given to the individual who applied the knowledge asset and not to the asset itself!



Connecting knowledge to outcomes of use


The quality of knowledge impacts the quality and consistency of the decision-making processes that use it. For example, if my knowledge is inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent, then it will increase my risk of making a decision that yields an undesirable outcome.


The ease of access to relevant knowledge will directly impact the speed of decision-making. In other words, the more time I spend searching for vital knowledge, the more time it will take me to make a decision.



We can illustrate this through a simple equation:

Decision time = knowledge access time + knowledge application time


  • If the knowledge asset I use to make the decision is tacit, then ‘knowledge access time’ will shrink to almost zero.
  • However, if the knowledge asset I need is explicit, I must go and find it and my decision time will be greater.



So what are the practical “value measures” (of knowledge) I can use?


There are two sets:

1. Outcome measures – measures of the effectiveness, efficiency and consistency of the processes where human decisions are needed


2. Control measures – measures quality of our knowledge assets and average speed of access




I would expect there to be a relationship between these two sets of measures. Here are two examples.


  • In a Service Centre – There are relationships between the quality of knowledge assets and First Contact Resolution Rate; knowledge access time and customer contact time.
  • In a Software Factory – There are relationships between the quality of knowledge assets and product quality (e.g., measured by test success rate); knowledge access time and process efficiency.



I often wonder whether “knowledge management” is a misnomer and should be re-named “continuous decision improvement” so that it states what it can do for us and not what it is. I hope that this first post will lead you to the same conclusion.


In my next post I’ll tackle Myth #2 – You can’t capture knowledge. This is another inaccurate perception that I’ll address…stay tuned!


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Stuart_Rance | ‎10-07-2012 11:50 PM

I think you are absolutely right about the importance of measuring the outcomes from Knowledge Management, but I would have loved to see some suggestions on how this measurement could be used to drive behaviour by use of gamification.


Thank you for the link to my blog 6 steps to get started with knowledge management

Alan Frost | ‎10-10-2012 02:24 AM

While I agree in principle with some of the ideas in this post, I think it is very difficult to get a usable measurement. The problem is that the outcomes are not only a product of a person's or company's knowledge. They are also affected by organizational, managerial, or even cultural factors. For example, a worker might feel that he needs to abide by company procedures, even if he has the knowledge to do better; an Indian worker might be hesitant to question authority; and the politics in a given organization can play havok on the processes and decisions that are made.


Another problem with tacit knowledge is that it is created by doing and experimenting. Tacit knowledge can also be "retrieved" when you do not have it, but instead of going to read an article you might contact an expert, consult with a co-worker, etc.


Yet another difficulty comes from the fact that there are short and long term goals. Some knowledge may be very valuable in the future, and it might be very much in the company's best interest to build a set of skills, the value of which are virtually impossible to quantify in the present.


So, while I agree that there is a relationship between good knowledge and good decisions, I think it is often difficult to effectively measure the value of knowledge. Perhaps a better statement might be "it is very difficult to accurately measure the value of knowledge".

Roy Woodhead | ‎10-10-2012 09:44 AM



I think this is an interesting viewpoint and one in which we need to take time to check the words we use are being used consistently.


You view knowledge as an asset, as some 'thing' we can measure, as ontological and in some way separate from other 'things'. Whilst I can see that might work in some cases such as a Knowledge base used by Incident Management built up from technical experience, I am not sure it can be used for 'all' situations.


I agree that outcomes can be evaluated even if we have to use probabilistic reasoning; but that's the output of knowledge + assumptions + unconsidered events + action.


I also think we need to be clear that the flip side of knowledge is uncertainty. That uncertainty only enters our awareness when there is a desirable outcome (e.g. to win the lottery I need to remove the uncertainty over which numbers will make my ticket the winner).


So I see this discussion as one factor amongst others for decisions that require knowledge of more complex interfaces between people, process and technology. For want of a better term, what I am getting at is "organisational intelligence".


For me, it is this wider consideration that is the cause of my hesitation in agreeing with your 'scope of consideration'. It may be you hold a more focused view of Knowledge in this blog that is the case with the view I hold about a much wider network of interactions that would lead to an improvement in Organisational Intelligence.


Great Blog !!!


Best wishes




Julian Clarke | ‎10-10-2012 12:57 PM

I understand and support your view Laurence - "what gets measured gets done".  How many of us store our data, information and knowledge on our hard drives rather than making it available to a wider audience - I plead guilty my lord!  Placing a measure on re-use or speed of access of knowledge should be one of the key business measures and raised up and discussed by each leadership team at least monthly - like the financial numbers.

LaurenceSmith | ‎10-10-2012 10:51 PM

Hi Stuart,

thanks for your thought-provoking reference to gamification. I guess you mean applying gamification techniques to present  KM measures in order to stimulate behaviour change e.g., leaderboards, progress bars to help drive up the quality of knowledge assets. My post didn't extend to how the various KM measures could be presented although this is worth considering!

LaurenceSmith | ‎10-10-2012 11:26 PM

Hello Alan and thank you for your comment.


I agree: it is difficult to measure accurately the value of knowledge but I believe that that shouldn't stop us trying. You are right that there are other factors that can be considered when associating outcomes to knowledge and it depends on the culture and other environmental factors as to whether the desired outcome is achieved. I think that this is why knowledge management requires some cultural change (supported by good IT!) to help increase knowledge sharing, application, growth and continuous improvement.


I also agree that knowledge is a perishable asset, just like some "tangible" assets. Many years ago, when I started my career in the IT business, I used to get asked questions about Fortran but now I don't (and even if I did, I would probably wouldn't know the right answer any more!). So I could surmise that the "value" of knowledge about Fortran has decreased because it is never applied to make decisions any more - although this won't be true for all organisations! Recognising that knowledge is a perishable asset  makes the case for measuring it even stronger.

LaurenceSmith | ‎10-11-2012 05:49 PM

Hi Roy,

I'm glad you brought up the subject of "organisational intelligence" because I maintain the view that knowledge management is one of the enablers of true organisational intelligence. It's interesting that individual humans  demonstrate intelligent behaviour regularly: we learn from mistakes quickly; respond and adapt to changes; predict and position ourselves before changes occur; etc. Organisations often struggle to demonstrate this ability and I think that it's because they lack the ability to grow and share the knowledge of their "consitituent parts" (i.e., employees) effectively. How simple it would be if we were all Borg (see Star Trek Second Generation)! Perhaps even more importantly, our apparent intelligence is due to knowing what we need to know (and this changes, as alluded to in Alan's comment), which is where we are back to measurement again. 

LaurenceSmith | ‎10-11-2012 05:57 PM

Thanks for the comment Julian. If you have the appetite for it, I attach a link to one of the true Masters of Intangible Asset and Intellectual Capital measurement (perhaps I should have included this link in my original post), Karl-Erik Sveiby and Intangible Asset measurement (I include "knowledge" in this context as an "intangible asset").

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