Sunday, November 11, 2007

A review of KM Asia 2007

I was very glad of the opportunity to visit Singapore, to attend the KM Asia conference and exhibition, and to deliver a keynote and participate in KM Singapore, during the week of 29th October through 2nd November. This blog will focus on KM Asia and I will follow with KM Singapore separately and later in the week.

It’s a rather long blog and I must confess I found writing it of great benefit in organising my thoughts. I have focused firstly on the state of KM in Asia, secondly my views on the KM Asia 2007 conference, and thirdly I focused on some key points and new learnings and insights for me from each of the four keynote speakers, Verna Allee, Jeff Kelly, Bob Buckman and Dave Snowden.

Coincidentally, I found the brochure of KM Asia 2001 that I participated in, before my trip, and I found it interesting to compare speakers, themes and topics and new developments.

Of course, International conferences, whatever the subject, are very great contributors to new knowledge creation, through presentations, papers, debates, networked conversations and, not least, the renewal and building of relationships and communities.

But conferences are also a very visible barometer of the health of the subject of the conference, the degree of new knowledge creation, and the growth and sustainability of the discipline, practise or profession. Also, the number and type of delegates that attend is very informing. If the same delegates choose to return, year on year, as well as attracting new delegates, and especially if there is that ‘buzz’ that ‘sizzle’, that is indeed a sign of a healthy and valuable subject.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see very much of this at KM Asia this year. There wasn’t that much excitement for me. When I knew I was to attend, I called up my contacts and friends, some of which are very influential in KM circles in Singapore and Asia, to see if they were attending this year, so that we could meet up. For a variety of more pressing reasons, they were unable to attend.

So I asked myself and a few colleagues that I met in Singapore, the normal questions:
Has KM reached its peak in Asia? Was it the quality of presentations and content? Should it have been organised differently?

Certainly, Singapore Government and Singapore Organisations, and the Asian Region have been working very hard with KM for many years, and other parts of the Region are just becoming very interested and active in the subject. I know this from personal experience of working with them on developing KM strategies, embedding KM processes and developing KM competencies.

I consider knowledge to be a perennial and an evergreen, and it should always be high on the agenda for innovative organisations to discover and learn new and better ways to create, transfer and apply new knowledge to enable them to better achieve, or even exceed, their objectives – be they for profit, for service, for value creation for stakeholders and/or for the common good of humanity and the planet.

Certainly the new wave of web based social tools has demonstrated some radically new ways to communicate and collectively create knowledge, radically new ways to collaborate and innovate on a mass scale, and radically new ways to learn and share knowledge. We now have radically new instruments to license knowledge through creative commons and knowledge commons, and I am sure there will be much more to come as we grow and globalise our knowledge exponentially.

I would go as far as to say that the web has radically and fundamentally changed the economics of knowledge.

So I cannot believe, at all, that there is a reduction of interest in knowledge as a subject. The evidence is still that more and more people around the world are increasingly even more interested in participating in the global knowledge economy.

And now, of course, we are starting to see a proliferation of new conferences, seminars and workshops on Social Computing, Web 2.0 and even the emerging new Semantic Web 2.0 or Meaningful Web/Computing. Activity and interest and growth and buzz in this area are exponential right now.

So knowledge is very alive and well, and of course, always will be, but the perception of the new wave of web services and tools, and their implications for knowledge driven individuals, teams, organisations and communities seems, for many, to be that it is a different subject, or I have even heard some say, the death of knowledge management.

Then we regularly read about organisations that say they are doing KM through implementing these social tools, especially wiki’s and blogs. There is some truth here, and they are making a great contribution to better knowledge management, of course, but when I consider the complete processes that practitioners and consultants have developed over the years, for creating, transferring and applying knowledge effectively, these Organisations still have a long way to go.

Even worse, I see even less knowledge driven organisations feeling the need for a knowledge strategy. But this has always been a worry of mine. A concern that senior managers do not seem to see the need of a wise investment in some strategic thinking that can make a big difference, and even radically transform the organisation for the better. There is still a sad lack of strategic thinking at all levels, whether it be for the strategic use of time, information, relationships or knowledge, to name a few.

People like novelty. People like new and refreshing perspectives. People like to be associated with exciting new developments. Otherwise, people get bored. That’s why we have ‘fashion’ and that also explains, to a degree, why we have fads. But the problem with this is that we tend to rush into the next search for the quick win, the silver bullet, or even the next holy grail, and repeatedly ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Such good work has been done in helping us all to better manage our time and our lives, our work, our relationships, more innovative processes, our information and, of course, our knowledge. But I hear too many people saying that these fads are over. They say that time management was a fad of the 1980’s, process reengineering and CRM were fads of the 1990’s that didn’t work, and now knowledge management is a fad.

I would like to make an appeal to conference organisers. I would like us to be better reminded, through conference, of the underlying and even timeless and unchanging principles of our subject, and the need to combine BOTH the timeless principles AND the ever changing, naturally emerging knowledge, methods, tools and techniques. Just focusing on the new emerging and rapidly changing tools, or indeed, just the principles, is not enough. Put them together in new combinations and the extraordinary emerges naturally!

As far as KM Asia is concerned, I heard criticisms from several delegates about the model that favours financial sponsorships of different levels of vendor speaking and of chairing the conference. The Chairperson for the conference was Gary Szukalski, Vice President, Field Marketing, Autonomy Inc and I thought he was an excellent Chairperson in the way he conducted and facilitated the conference and the way he distilled key points. But even Gary said on the platform on day two, in the afternoon, that ‘the good news is that there are no more vendor presentations and we know you want more objective presentations from organisations and practitioners’. I was told, at dinner later in the evening, that in Australia people now increasingly walk out of vendor presentations in conferences as a principle.

Let’s not forget the hard facts of commercial business life and if it were not for organisations like Ark Group, who take all the risks and who need to be funded adequately, we would not be able to enjoy events like KM Asia. But the challenge I put to commercial conference organisers is to continually examine better alternative ways to fund models that will bring about more objectivity.

David Gurteen brings enormous enthusiasm and objectivity to any conference, but I arrived in Singapore too late to attend his Knowledge Café. I would have liked to do that.

But all the keynotes were from organisations and practitioners and were very objective. And there was some good new learning, insights and new knowledge for me here.

Unfortunately for me, I could not get to day 1 keynotes but I studied the presentation slides from both Verna Allee, Verna Allee Associates, on ‘Knowledge, networks and value creation’ and Jeff Kelly, Director of Knowledge Strategy, Hinchcliff & Co on ‘Enterprise 2.0 and knowledge management. I also talked to delegates about the day 1 keynotes. We all concluded that they were very informing indeed and we thought they added very great value to the conference.

From Verna, in particular, I liked the way she describes ‘Three Meta Capabilities’ – Business Innovation, Social Innovation and Technology Innovation and also her thoughts on ‘Dialogue vs Critical Thinking’ and the art of dialogue. I rather liked
‘An Emerging Value Model’ that describes broadly accepted categories of Intangible Assets. This led her to a Value Conversion Strategy Model and a Value Network Strategy Model that make very good sense to me. One of her concluding slides entitled ‘Increasing Prosperity’ has an excellent quote from Alan Briskin ‘The capacity to honour the collective consciousness and to act on behalf of the whole is truly the work of the next 100 years’. That’s cool.

From Jeff Kelly, I learned the working definition for Web 2.0, from their Web 2 University perspective to be:

“Web 2.0 is networked products that explicitly leverage network effects.”

His presentation confirmed many of the discussions I have been having recently about the disruptive effects and challenges that Web 2.0 poses for the established Enterprise and he has some good recommendations for an E2 strategy, not least ‘Start small and keep expectation low on a small budget’ You can see the work of Web 2.0 University at

I did attend both keynotes on Day 2 from Bob Buckman and Dave Snowden.

Bob Buckman never fails to inspire me. I have heard him several times before and I had the fortune to have a few words with Bob in the VIP breakfast just before he kicked off Day 2.

It is not so much that I learn new things from Bob, although I have certainly learned from him from time to time, but, as I said earlier, he never fails to inspire me. And that is what Leadership is all about. I would certainly and completely trust Bob to ‘pack my parachute’.

How encouraging to hear a successful leader of people say ‘ I believe we should establish the cultural paradigm of creating unlimited opportunities for our associates to grow and to be the best that they can be’ and ‘We need to invest in knowledge systems like any other investment that will redefine an organization if we want improved collaboration and innovation’.

He reminded me, when discussing collaboration, networks and Metcalf’s Law that ‘the value of a network increases as the square of the number of users on the network that we are all building’. I realised again, that we are building a huge new neural network out there on the web with increasingly new and massive flows of thoughts, ideas, insights and valuable conversations.

I liked his powerful statements on collaboration, firstly to ‘reduce the number of transmissions of knowledge to one, to achieve the least distortion of knowledge’
And secondly, to ‘focus on changing the speed of response to any need toward instantaneity’.

But what I resonated with the most was Bob’s presentation of a ‘Community of One’.

Mentally, emotionally and spiritually, he has a powerful point here. I believe that he is also talking about the emergence of the global individual and not just the global organization.

Whereas Bob inspires me emotionally the most, Dave Snowden never fails to inspire me intellectually the most. He gets me to think, whether it’s through challenging my thoughts and beliefs, and certainly challenging the status quo, or whether it is through excellent new thinking.

I haven’t heard Dave for a while, so I was not sure in which direction he was moving.

He started by repeating his challenge that he said he first made in 2004/5 that ‘KM is at the end of its life cycle’. I have made my views on that too, earlier in this blog.

I certainly liked ‘Switch from fail safe design to safe fail experimentation’ and his comment that the IT profession is stuck in an old age. His messages on creating evolutionary environments and his criticisms of the SECI model and the data/information/knowledge spectrum are well known.

But the greatest new insight for me was the way he talked about “knowledge in the human brain as ‘fragmented’ and is reassembled in the context of need” I resonated with his explanation of fragmented patterns and especially “the way we know is not the same as the way we describe what we know”

It is quite a compelling argument to talk about fragmented narrative and not structured knowledge bases, although I see a need for BOTH/AND albeit much more fragmented and, as Dave calls it ‘messy knowledge’ rather than structured.

I think Dave is an ‘upside down thinker’ which I mean as a compliment, as he tends to favour opposites from standard perception, like ‘tolerated failure’ and one tolerated failure can be better than 20,000 successes.

Generally, I am quite familiar with his good work on Complexity and Narrative Development.

He advised:

Make it all available
Learn in the sandpits of Wiki
Consolidate blogs into Wiki’s
Allow freedom
Ban email attachments and
Hotlink into document repositories

For the first time, I heard Dave say that the new technologies of Social Computing are matching the theory of KM.

His best theory for me was simply ‘order – mess – order – mess’

His truism that ‘facebook creates an allergic reaction on Management’ made us all chuckle. I have just leaped into Facebook, thanks to David Gurteen's prompting, and together with my personal experience of blogging, wiki's, youtube etc I realise the fears and concerns that many, less enlightened, managers will have.

I remember giving an after dinner talk on KM in Hong Kong several years ago, focusing on the true power of knowledge sharing. Afterwards, the Chief Executive from a large mainland China business said to me 'I love KM, I want you to come to China and teach me everything you know about KM, but don't tell any of my employees!' I realised that either I had not communicated very well about knowledge sharing and/or he may have had a great hidden fear to lose control. I see lot's of this all around the world in many management teams today.

But, getting back to Dave Snowden's keynote at KM Asia, although I have heard it from him before, it was still refreshingly provocative and entertaining for Dave to tell the audience, especially in Singapore, that ‘you know when you have reached the end of a cycle when Government adopt as Industrial Best Practices what traditional Industry has abandoned already’

Generally, in KM Asia 2007, I would have liked to have heard more discussion in the conference on Open Source Knowledge, Knowledge Commons and other emerging instruments, which are my special interest at the moment, and which I think will make a big impact and contribute to even more radical KM developments in the future.

Talking about Knowledge Commons, I could not get to KM World in San Jose, but Stuart Henshall has done a great job in blogging it and he refers to a talk by Richard McDermott – Tragedy of the Knowledge Commons – which didn’t do much for him. I hope to be able to talk about the developments and implications for Open Source Knowledge in KM conferences next year.

I feel that we need more than one Dave Snowden, we need a few actually, to keep challenging us on everything from BOTH underlying timeless principles, to knowledge policy, knowledge strategy, knowledge processes, new knowledge technologies AND naturally emerging properties, complexity, chaos and messy knowledge. We need some more new blood too. No disrespect to the oldies, and I am one of the senior members that’s been around for a long time, but we need some new stars to inspire us and move us forward with new thinking, alongside the established thinkers.

The big question. Will I go to KM Asia next year?

If I were living in Asia – most certainly

As I live in Europe - If I am working in Asia at the time – most certainly

As I live in Europe - If I am invited as a speaker, certainly.

If not invited, and it is at my cost from Europe just to attend the conference, maybe, unlikely, but totally depending on the speakers, the themes and topics.

Good luck Ark Group and congratulations on running successful conferences over many years.

Ron Young

For more information on Open Source KM go to:

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