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16 Knowledge Management Myths Debunked: Misconceptions of KM

[The following article is a transcript of a video of Stan Garfields's keynote session at KMWorld 2015 in Washington, DC. View the full session video at the bottom of this page.]

In this tutorial, I'll go through what I call "The 16 Myths of Knowledge Management," and debunk each one.

KM Myth 1: Push it

The first one is the notion of push. I work at Deloitte where John Hagel is the head of our Center for the Edge. He's written a book called the Power of Pull, but it's not as if everybody always follows that religiously. We still have a lot of people who love to push things out--namely, the idea that if only we publicize it, advertise it, promote it, force it into someone's mailbox, etc., that this people will read it and do whatever it is that we're trying to get them to do. Variations on this "push" approach include promoting banner ads on the internet, sending out frequent emails or frequent reminders and then, telling your audience that they need to do this, reminding them to do that, or pleading with them to complete some profile or submit some document or use some tool.
The problem with push is that we're so used to seeing this kind of thing that we just tune it out. If you receive an email and it isn't one that you specifically were looking forward to getting, it's not from someone that you consider to be important, it's not on a subject that's relevant to you, your general inclination is to ignore it, delete it, get rid of it, or automatically filter it into a junk folder. The notion that we can push something and that that will work is less and less valid.
Ironically, we'll lament that we get too much email, but we'll still rely on it. The same people that will say, "I get too much email, I don't want any more emailî are the ones who only use email to communicate. It's a lot better to try to create pull, demand for what you have to offer, than if you try to force it on people. Figure out ways to get your message across in such a way that it's not forced on anyone. If you can make it appealing, if you can make it at a place that people can choose to consume it, that's a better way to get people to read it, understand it, and take whatever action you want than if you try to force it on them. 

KM Myth 2: Someone Else Will Do It

This one starts with leaders who initially like a KM program and then will leave it to others and say, "Okay, you take it from here and I'll do something else." Or people who work in knowledge management, but who don't lead by example. They want everyone in the organization to use a particular tool or to follow a particular process, but then they don't do that themselves. They figure someone else will do that.
They might say that we should use an enterprise social network, but then they continue sending email or they say, "You should fill in your profile," but then they have someone else fill in their own profile. You'll run into this kind of thing when you're encouraging a leader to interact in an enterprise social network or to do something using one of the tools and they'll delegate that to someone else. They'll say, "You fill in my profile or you post for me or you ghost write it for me," and things of that sort.
We can all sense that when it's happening. You can't really get away with that without people realizing it. If you really want someone to do something, one of the very best ways to do is to do it yourself and then, not only will you learn about how it works and the pros and cons of it, but other people will also see you doing that and they'll do it as well.
Another version of this is the notion of benchmarking competitors. We see that a lot. Weíve got to benchmark our competitors so we can do what they're doing. It's valid to find out what other organizations are doing. That's the value of going to a conference like KMWorld. We hear from each other. We can learn and we can innovate on what we hear from other people, but if you only want to do exactly what other people are doing, then you're really just leaving it to someone else. You're not thinking about what's good for your organization. You're saying, "We'll do just exactly what someone else does," and that's not really going to be very innovative or may not even be relevant to the problems that you face.
Another one is not wanting to get your hands dirty by learning by doing. Sometimes, when a new tool comes along, the people who are trying to promote it have to be the first ones to jump in and try it. That can be messy and it may not work right. It might be hard. The point is, if you don't do that and then you're turning around and talking about it, that's not a good thing.
We see this a lot when it comes to getting people to use knowledge management tools by asking them to post in an enterprise social network or contribute documents or anything that requires them to sort of take a risk, but we think someone else will do it. Weíre all familiar with the general rule of thumb that says about 90% of any community will tend to read or be more passive in a community and there's 10% that's more active. If the 90% never post anything at all, if they never contribute anything at all, then obviously, our knowledge sharing programs aren't going to work.
It's like if we do a search and we don't find what we're searching for, we can blame the search engine, but more often than not, it may be that the thing you're searching for isn't there. And why is that? Someone didn't contribute it. It's this notion that somehow things will magically get done so we can take advantage of them. We can have supply without anyone creating it. We'll just search and find it or someone else will ask the question that I was thinking of asking, but I'm afraid to ask and then I'll benefit from that. But if that doesn't happen, then no one ever learns. We've got to be willing to do it ourselves as opposed to expecting someone else to do it.
Consider this notion of demand without supply, that you should just be able to get whatever you want. I regularly receive requests where people are asking for some very, very specific thing. Recently I received one from a person who wanted all kinds of very specific information about best practices for KM, ROI data and so forth. This person seemed to think that everything is just out there somewhere and that we will just magically find it. But if someone hasn't supplied it, it's going to be hard to find.

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