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In Memoriam - Remembering Larry Prusak

Larry Prusak, an early and influential advocate for knowledge management, died of cancer at the age of 79 on Sept. 23, 2023. Often referred to as the founder of KM (a title he did not embrace, believing it was the result of many people, not just him), Prusak had a distinguished career, and his contributions to the field of KM are immense. One of his last appearances was at the closing panel for the KMWorld 2022 conference, where he spoke remotely via Zoom.

His seminal book on KM, Working Knowledge, published in 1998 with co-author Thomas Davenport, set the scene for the rise of KM as a recognized discipline and encouraged its worldwide practice within organizations of all stripes. His most recent book, The Smart Mission: NASA’s Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects, with co-authors Edward J. Hoffman and Matthew Kohut, was published by MIT Press in 2022.

Prusak was principal and founder of Ernst & Young’s Center for Business Innovation. He was the founder and executive director at the Institute for Knowledge Management IBM. He served as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Babson College’s Working Knowledge, a knowledge research program. He consulted with numerous companies, including the Asian Development Bank, NASA, and McKinsey; lectured around the world on KM topics; and published many journal articles.

Most recently, he was a lecturer and adjunct professor at Columbia University in the School of Professional Studies (https://sps.columbia.edu/faculty/laurence-prusak-phd) as well as director of research at Knowledge Strategies, LLC.

When he retired from Columbia in 2022, Nancy Dixon wrote (sps.columbia.edu/news/tribute-larry-prusak-ikns-lecturer-and-father-knowledge-management) that “Larry is fond of his many aphorisms about KM that he freely and repeatedly offers:

• Knowledge is a social attribute, not an individual attribute. Knowledge is socially constructed.

• Knowledge gives meaning to information.

• No one person or organization can know enough. You have to build alliances.

• Knowledge is in the space between people.

• Without trust nothing happens. People won’t share knowledge without trust.

• No one does anything great by themselves. Well, maybe...nah. No one does.

Those aphorisms represent Larry’s deeply held belief that knowledge is not only a human attribute but an invaluable attribute worth spending a lifetime exploring.”

Dave Snowden (https://thecynefin.co/larry-prusak) reminisced about their many interactions and how special their relationship was, saying, “He was wonderfully generous, eclectic and empathetic.” Stan Garfield commented, “He had one of the great minds in the field, providing useful insights based on his extensive reading, keen observations, and deep thinking (stangarfield.medium.com/laurence-prusak-profiles-in-knowledge-58ee45310b6).

On the SIKM Leaders (https://sikm.groups.io/g/main) discussion list, Garfield quoted a Facebook post from Tom Stewart on the page of Larry’s daughter, Kimmee: “Larry was a wonderful man, a marvelous friend. I’ve never met anyone smarter—nor anyone who wore his brilliance so lightly and gave of it so generously. I think it’s in Working Knowledge that there’s a sentence saying, mas o menos, ‘The time has long past when any person could be said to know all there is to know.’ That sentence has a footnote that says something like ‘The last person of whom this was said is Erasmus, who died in 1536,’ which Larry clearly wrote since he is the person who came closest to Erasmus’s mark.”

Read the full obituary at https://www.douglassfh.com/obituary/laurence-prusak and watch for special remembrances at the KMWorld 2023 conference in Washington, D.C., Nov. 6–9, 2023.

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