This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Troubles with both supply and demand for knowledge

So your KM implementation isn't going so well?  Or maybe you are in consulting engagement isn't going as well as you expected.  All the technical elements are done, but the benefits aren't being realized.  Why?

There are many potential reasons; here are a few.  In the video below Chris Collison describes some KM "syndromes" that he has observed.  Knowledge Management and Flower Power!.

I’ve looked into four syndromes which impact either the “supply side” or the “demand side” in any knowledge marketplace:  Tall Poppy Syndrome, Shrinking Violet Syndrome, Not Invented Here Syndrome and finally TomTom Syndrome (aka “Real men don’t ask directions”!)

In case these syndromes aren't obvious to the reader / listener, these are some familiar (and not so familiar) metaphors.  Here's what I got from Chris and some of my own ideas for good luck. 

On the supply side, we have trouble providing "knowledge" to the KM system or even between each other.  The two items Chris mentions here are

  1. Tall Poppy Syndrome (wikipedia description): The problem here is that if you stand up and let yourself be known, then it is also easier to get kicked - as in the tallest flower gets noticed.  If you are in an environment where "being noticed" is a negative thing, then people aren't going to be interested in standing up.  So, how do you make it okay to stand up and be noticed?  It's not just rewards, it has to become okay for people to raise their hand and give voice to their ideas.  And it has to be more than just "the talkative one." 
  2. Shrinking Violet Syndrome (description from popular culture): This is the familiar "Oh, I don't know" if I have anything interesting to contribute.  This tends to be a more personal attitude in popular culture, but in context of KM it could also be a group leader saying that "we're not doing anything interesting" to be shared beyond the walls of the group: In other words, "Don't speak up."  How do you get more people involved.  Of course, just having a system isn't going to solve this problem.  The organization needs to be open and asking for those suggestions.  I suspect this may lead to the demand-side items.

And then on the demand side, we have an organization that isn't interested in learning new things.  The two items Chris describes are

  1. Not invented here syndrome (wikipedia description):  This is a classic problem in knowledge management (and in consulting in general).  "We are different" so the proposed change could never possibly work.  People often use this exact phrase, but even when they don't there are many other code words for this syndrome: asking for detailed references; claiming it's been tried before without understanding that the situation has changed; etc.  My favorite counter to this problem are the examples of companies who aggressively seek ideas that aren't invented here by offering awards that promote bringing in new ideas. 
  2. TomTom Syndrome (better known as Real Men Don't Ask for Directions; wikipedia on gender differences): Some people (not only men, thank you) don't like to admit they are lost.  In business, this translates into people being unwilling to ask for help.  I see this in knowledge management and other disciplines.  We set up this great "collaboration system" but then ask what is holding up an activity: John is overloaded.  Talk to John and suggest he ask for help.  "No, I can do it myself."  So, the collaboration system isn't the only solution.  More has to be done to change the culture to make it normal to ask for help, instead of going it alone.

Chris has a PDF on Knowledge Management - the Next Generation in which he describes these syndromes and a little more.   There are a few other places where this is discussed if you search for the terms and Chris' name.

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