One of the challenges with "personal knowledge management" is that everyone operates differently and has different strengths that can be supported via PKM concepts and tools. In the end, the tools need to supplement our skills, not supplant them.
I met a "financial engineering consultant"* at a networking event recently. While we talked about his work and the work I intend to do with Knowledge Jolt, we got on the topic of value. For my prospective clients, I need to talk about the value they have stored in the knowledge of their people. More accurately, their value is in how what they know can be used for the good of the organization to increase throughput and decrease operating expenses.
For my acquaintance, his value is not in his financial portfolio (or that of his clients), even though that is the end result of what he does. Value comes from bringing in new business, and his most valued knowledge is his vast network of contacts and his uncanny ability to remember them and their likelihood of generating new business.
My question is why he collect all these names in the first place? He clearly believes he gains some advantage from having them. But he also thinks he can gain additional value if he would be able to call up specific subsets of these names, such as all mortgage brokers when the rates hit a new low.
He is working with another of his colleagues to try to "organize" all his contacts (primarily business cards) into something that yields more value. Of course, the business cards don't have all the additional information that he efficiently stores in his brain for easy retrieval the next time he meets that person -- or a person who could use their services. He's also not terribly keen on business card readers or writing down his thoughts from meetings with people.
So, what about KM can address his needs? In this case, it really should be called Personal Information/Knowledge Management. Sure, there is software out there that he could use to group contacts together and/or take notes about each interaction he has with those contacts. But I don't think software alone will solve his deeper problem - how to get value out of all this information. For that, he needs to give more consideration to the value that these contacts represent and build work processes around that. This must include developing realistic requirements. He suggested in our conversation that he would like something to help refine his contact-making process, but then added that he would like to contact all 30 of his mortgage-brokering friends in a two-hour window between meetings. Getting the list is realistic. Making personal contact with them all is not.
The real value in this huge primary network is that it leads to more opportunities to bring people together, and he is clearly at networker extraordinaire. He is even the lead of a local networking group. For example, after talking with me for half an hour, he had two ideas for people I should meet and he made the connections for me in less than a day. Yes, he makes his income from financial planning, but his "brand" is much more about connecting people to the right resources for their needs. And, of course, he expects that some of these connections will lead to additional business. He will tell me that his income would drop significantly if all he did was collect business cards and then press people to buy his formal services.
He doesn't need a full bore contact management package, because he does a much better job of tracking details in his own head. He needs a simple tool in which he can record contact information and a few key words/phrases that will help later searches. Once he has a list of people, he can rely on his own facility to decide which four to six people of 30 to call in the two hours he has allocated to the task.
Ideally, the result is a workable set of ideas and tools that makes his work more productive. If there is software involved, it had better fit the way he already works.
* The phrase "financial engineering consultant" is how he described himself. He helps people think about how their money works - reminding me that money only grows when it flows, or something to that effect. In reality he does advanced financial planning for people.