16 knowledge management myths debunked

In a tutorial session at the KMWorld 2015 Conference in Washington, Stan Garfield discusses what he calls the “16 myths of knowledge management”, debunking each one. As well as the tutorial transcript and video, there are also PowerPoint slides.

In summary, Stan’s perspectives on the “16 myths of knowledge management” are:

  • KM Myth 1: Push it. This is the idea that if only we publicize it, advertise it, promote it, force it into someone’s mailbox, etc. then people will read it and do whatever it is that we’re trying to get them to do. Instead, we need to figure how to get our messages across in such a way that they are not forced on anyone. Pull people in rather than pushing things at them.
  • KM Myth 2: Someone else will do it. This one starts with leaders who initially like a knowledge management program, and who then 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. However, we’ve got to be willing to do it ourselves as opposed to expecting someone else to do it.
  • KM Myth 3: KM is dead. Here’s one we have all have heard, and that recently came back to life again: the notion that knowledge management is dead, it’s on life support, or it’s irrelevant. However, while it may not be rapidly growing in size, it’s clear that knowledge management is not dead. We will continue to need to share and innovate and reuse and collaborate and learn, so knowledge management is unlikely to ever go away.
  • KM Myth 4: Incentives don’t work. We also hear from people that incentives don’t work. There’s the notion that people will engage with incentives only for personal gain. However if people do this, feedback can be given, making the system self-correcting. There’s also the view that people aren’t genuinely motivated if incentives are used. However, incentives can signal to employees that management sees a new program as being important. There are notable examples of where incentives have worked well.
  • KM Myth 5: Roll it out and drive adoption. We hear a lot of talk about rolling out a tool or driving adoption. Rolling out a tool implies that we have a tool that’s in search of a solution. We don’t know why we’re rolling it out; we just are. Instead, make the advantages of using tools clear to people, and explain tools to a level of detail that enables people to relate to them.
  • KM Myth 6: Social media is frivolous. We’ve all heard the notion that social media is frivolous, it’s not serious, or it’s a waste of time. Critics will say things like “I don’t care what you ate for breakfast”, but in reality most posts are for valid purposes. If they’re truly sharing information that is useful to the rest of the organization, then the time that people spend on social networks should be recognized and celebrated.
  • KM Myth 7: Don’t control. In the community realm, we often get into a debate about whether we should try to control or not control the creation of communities. There’s not agreement on this. The notion that we should allow there to be an infinite number of communities doesn’t work well because it becomes bewildering for users, and each community lacks critical mass.
  • KM Myth 8: Eliminate risks. Some companies are concerned that employees might somehow share information that they shouldn’t. However, you should trust the employees you have chosen to hire to use good sense when it comes to sharing information. It’s also better to encourage things to be shared in a visible way, so that if somebody does something inappropriate then you can initiate corrective action. If you drive it underground, it doesn’t work.
  • KM Myth 9: Be like Google and Amazon. Have you ever been asked why your search isn’t more like Google? The reason is to do with scale and the difference between the millions of people on the internet and the thousands or hundreds of people in your company. You’ll also sometimes hear “Let’s have content ratings like Amazon”, which also doesn’t work well at a small scale. Think about how these things actually work behind firewalls inside companies and treat them differently.
  • KM Myth 10: We need our own. Often, the reason for doing something is the belief that we need our own, for example a particular community. The idea could be for what is thought to be a valid reason, but if examined it would be found that a separate new community isn’t necessary and would also lack critical mass. This is particularly the case if the new community occupies a narrow niche. There’s also the internal versus external issue, with the notion that an internal forum or repository is needed when in fact most of the knowledge about the subject may be outside of the company.
  • KM Myth 11: I don’t have time. A typical lament you hear in knowledge management circles is “I don’t have time for that”. What that implies is they don’t think that learning is as important as mundane tasks. However, the notion that they don’t have time generally means that they don’t think learning is important and they should probably step back and reevaluate that.
  • KM Myth 12: We should work ourselves out of a job. Another thing heard frequently is that knowledge managers should work themselves out of a job or that knowledge management is everyone’s job, so we don’t really need a knowledge management department or full-time knowledge managers. But we don’t apply this logic to other departments, and while it’s everyone’s jobs to do the things that knowledge management includes, there needs to be somebody leading and championing it.
  • KM Myth 13: Bigger is better. Some KM practitioners say “The bigger team we have, the better. The more power I’ll have. The greater importance I’ll have in the organization. I’ll be measured by that.” But large doesn’t necessarily mean more effective. The exception to this is communities, where the more members who are paying attention, the better.
  • KM Myth 14: Make people do it. The idea that we can make somebody do something is not valid. If we make them do it and we enforce it, they’ll do it to the minimum extent possible. As part of that, forced membership in communities isn’t a good idea. It should be voluntary. Once again, try to pull people in rather than push them.
  • KM Myth 15: Everything is a community. “Community” is sometimes used in strange ways. A community is something people choose to join because they want to meet up with other people who are interested in the same subject. A community is not an entire population, website, wiki, blog, enterprise social network, organisation, or project team. More is written about this in the Communities Manifesto.
  • KM Myth 16: Our IP will be stolen. The last of the 16 myths is that intellectual property will be stolen. The notion that you need to lock information down and secure it so that other people can’t see it goes against the whole notion of knowledge management. So, you need to ask if the risk is real or imaginary.
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Also published on Medium.

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