Frank Leistner, CKO, SAS Institute has published the book, Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow - How to make Knowledge Sharing Work. Frank was kind to give me a review copy at the last KM World. He stays away from the term “knowledge management" to the use "knowledge flow management." This is similar to Jeremiah Owyang’s “knowledge action” and the often-used term “knowledge sharing,” as well as “knowledge solutions.” I never liked knowledge management so I welcome all of these changes that add some action component.
Frank begins with a great quote from Plutach, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” So much for those old behaviorist notions of how people learn. It also runs against the old school KM concept of collecting best practices to share with the less experienced. Frank’s book covers the human side of enabling knowledge to flow within an organization to kindle these fires. The central case that runs through the book is SAS’s ToolPool that has been successfully running for 13 years. Frank is the Chief Knowledge Officer at SAS where he has been since 1997.
I first met Frank at a Braintrust event in 2003. We share some common background. He has been connected to the Harvard Graduate School of Education Learning Innovations Laboratory roundtable since 2003. I did a post-doc there from 1976 to 1980 looking at how media effect cognition. I was also a colleague of Tom Davenport, another influencer, for a number of years in the last 90s and early 2000s. So it was not a complete surprise that I agreed with many of the fundamental assumptions in his book.
Knowledge management has been around for a long time. While there have been enough successes to encourage its longevity, Frank also notes that there continue to be many failures. Personally, I have never seen a knowledge management system succeed that was not a key part of a specific business processes or related set of processes. Standalone general repositories do not work. ToolPool supports this observation as it has a clear focus on sharing technical tips, tricks, tools, and program code and this is part of its success. He adds that the big bang general KM systems have a much harder challenge to survive.
Frank goes on to make a very important point when he describes how the term knowledge base is not useful. Knowledge is what is embedded within the minds of people and is activated as they deal with issues. The concept that knowledge can be stored outside the human mind is a major reason why, in Frank’s view, traditional repository-based knowledge management systems do not work. I could not agree more.
To get knowledge to flow you need to have a simple set of rules that need to be followed consistently. These rules need to allow for a good bit of flexibility and innovation within then, Examples include Twitter, the Wikipedia, and the Web itself.
The book covers the whole range of activities necessary to have knowledge flow within your organization. It discusses getting starting, defining roles, basic requirements, and gaining engagement. Barriers are described, along with ways to overcome them. Franks warns us about the traps that technology can bring. Ways to create useful measures are explained. He closes with a look ahead, covering the impact of Web 2.0 and the use of social media within the enterprise.
I certainly recommend it for anyone who wants to succeed with knowledge sharing within their organization. Frank brings years of experience to the effort. He has also started a Master Knowledge Flow blog to continue to conversation.