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The importance of coffee in knowledge management

Coffee is such a powerful beverage, as it has caused wars, and now it is becoming scarce and in demand. The history of drinks and social collaboration goes far back. The Marine Corps calls it a scuttlebutt; others meet in coffee shops, and some people meet at a campfire every Friday night.

However, if we think about the more significant view, people tend to converse over drinks in many places. Any type of bars, restaurants and other gathering places are unique in their setting for exchanging types of knowledge. Sometimes, a gem of wisdom appears, and other people can help solve a problem or present a solution to the problem.

A beverage helps take you out of a defensive structure and into a listening one. Do you take time out of your day to have a cup of coffee with a stranger to learn something new, or do you do it to assist in solving a problem? LinkedIn has a group called 100 coffees in 100 days, and the goal is to bring together people in 100 days to learn from each other. In knowledge management, it is all about making those connections. Those connections provide us the ability to have that conversation over coffee and identify what the client needs. If a client comes up to you and asks to have a community of practice built, or says they need a SharePoint site, do you ask why, or did you create it? Is it something that they know they need, or is it something they think is required?

Knowledge management is an art that utilizes people skills and the company’s mission and vision to decipher and get to the root cause. Asking why is such a powerful and underused tool. It is part of interpreting the customers’ needs. These are things that you need to ask yourself as any project manager. It is something that we can quickly do, or is it going to be a large project? These are things as knowledge workers we need to understand as we dig down deep. Asking why over a cup of coffee could tell you so much.

It is the ability to have that conversation1, understand the need, and understand the drive. These are things that we, as knowledge workers, need to look at to improve our understanding. Is it something where we can broker the knowledge to connect people? If the knowledge is unique, do we use it to solve our problems or listen to others and help them? Do they know they have a problem, or is it they are asking for help?

As knowledge managers, we should have our doors open to the staff no matter when they need us. We need to be active listeners, not passive. We need to understand the drive behind the person. Do they want to fix something, or are they doing it because someone told them to? Is it a bottom-up approach or a top-down approach? Grassroots movements can change the world. Something as simple as a site that holds all the training and processes a document can save us millions of dollars, or adjust our calendars just a little bit where we have white space. We can then have that cup of coffee, and then we can understand the driving force behind the person and the need for knowledge management in the workplace.

Header image source: Progressive Charlestown, CC BY-SA 4.0.


  1. Ipe, M. (2007). Sensemaking and the creation of social webs. In Rethinking Knowledge Management (pp. 227-246). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
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John Antill

John Antill is currently a Knowledge Manager at US Army Expeditionary Workforce. With over 14 years of progressively responsible knowledge management experience in complex technical roles – both military and civilian – requiring exceptional project coordination, problem solving, and management skills, John has established a track record of success by leveraging a collaborative leadership style to accomplish all short- and long-range objectives. An engaging and articulate communicator, he is able to clearly convey complex technical information and propose novel solutions to build consensus with key project stakeholders, including high-value clients and executive leadership. Furthermore, his consistent focus on remaining at the forefront of rapidly evolving technology allows him to drive enterprise-wide innovation and maintain a competitive advantage.JOhn is on the Board of Minority Empowerment Through Technology which provides underserved college STEM students to get the technology they need to be successful in their courware and projects.John Holds a Master of Science in Knowledge Management from Kent State university and a Master of Certified Knowledge Management from the KMInstitute.

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