Friday, March 26, 2010

Is genius a natural gift or can it be developed?

In the pursuit of methods, tools and techniques for developing higher or 'extraordinary' knowledge, I came across this definition of genius:

'a person who has discovered how to increase the vibration of thought (consciously or unconsciously) to the point where they can freely communicate with sources of knowledge not available through the 'ordinary' rate of vibration of thought'.

There is a suggestion here of 'keying up' to higher rates of vibration, for example, when in highly enthusiastic states, intensive desires and passions, high levels of creative imagination etc.

Another definition of genius I have come across is:

'using the faculties of the left and right hemispheres to the full and in unison'

Both definitions suggest that we can all personally develop conditions that lead to genius, as opposed to the common belief that genius is natural for the gifted few.

We can agree that genius is exceptional natural ability, but what are your thoughts on this? Can genius be cultivated at schools, in the workplace?

Ron Young

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

KM Principle: Be BOTH a learning organization AND knowledge driven

Having recently returned from a conference in Indonesia on the subject of learning organizations, author Ron Young, director and principal consultant of Knowledge Associates International, and founder of, considers how these entities differ from knowledge-driven organizations and asks whether the two approaches can coexist.

Learning is about the acquisition of knowledge, he says, while KM should be about having access to, and applying, that knowledge. So are learning and KM two sides of the same coin?


Is yours a learning organization, a knowledge driven one, or both?

In June 2008, I had the great privilege and pleasure to be a keynote speaker and facilitator at a study meeting held in Bali, Indonesia, which focused on the subject of “Learning Organizations”. This event gave me an opportunity to critically review recent developments in organizational learning that have taken place all around the world, and especially throughout Asia, since the concept was popularized in the early 1990s.

But while reflecting on these developments from the luxury of my hotel balcony, I couldn’t entirely forget a prediction that I made back in 1995. As co-author of the book, Upside DownManagement: Revolutionizing Management and Development to Maximize Business Success1, I claimed, at that time in my thinking, that the learning organization, although vitally important, was merely the “warm-up act” for the “star turn” that was about to take the stage – KM for knowledge-driven organizations.

At the time, I saw the knowledge-driven organization as the natural evolution from the learning organization

So it was great to spend four days in Bali studying the principles and characteristics of learning organizations alongside those of knowledge-driven organizations – and to compare their associated concepts, developments and benefits.

As a management consultant who specializes in organizational learning and knowledge management, I’m often asked what the differences are between these approaches; what benefits they bring, both individually and together; and whether KM can help in becoming a learning organization? More importantly, I’m often asked, “Why should we become a learning organization and practice effective KM?”

In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions and draw some conclusions. Before I launch into that discussion, however, I have a word of warning on the subject of labels. As Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said: “If you label me, you destroy me.”

In an age of holistic organizational development, we know that if we consider just one perspective, we run the risk of losing sight of the whole picture. The label “learning organization” is very useful to help us study and improve an aspect of our working environments, but most workplaces are far more than just learning organizations. So beware of making learning too much of a focus, to the point that you start to lose sight of your organization’s true meaning and purpose.

Getting back to basics

When this topic is up for debate in the boardroom, the first question should be: “Why do we want to become a learning organization?” The only answer should be: “To help us better achieve or exceed our objectives.”

In fact, I would go a step further and suggest that, unless it will make a significant difference to achieving your objectives, becoming a learning organization may not be worth the effort.

The case for becoming a learning organization must be based on value creation and measurable results.

Over the years, I’ve been taught some sound, evergreen business principles. For example, ask yourself the question, “For how long have senior management been interested in increasing productivity, improving relationships, developing quality, innovating and making better decisions?’

The answer, of course, is forever.

And for how long have they been interested in increasing sales or growth, reducing costs and increasing profits or value creation? The answer, again, is forever.

These are perennial items on the boardroom agenda. But what is it that fundamentally underpins productivity, relationships, quality, innovation, better decision-making, increased sales, reduced costs, increased profits and/or value creation?

The answer is the acquisition of knowledge and its wise application.

Organizations are, and always will be, as good as their knowledge, and their ability to transform that knowledge into valuable and successful competencies, products and services.

This knowledge might take the form of new and revolutionary ideas, or it could be knowledge of competitors and industry sectors. It could be process knowledge and good/best-practice knowledge. It could be knowledge of a change in the environment, or knowledge that demands a change in the environment.

The list goes on.

Knowledge fundamentally underpins everything we do in organizations.

Larry Prusak, a KM thought leader (and member of the KM Review editorial board), put it better when he said: “The only thing that gives an organization a competitive edge, the only thing that is sustainable, is what it knows, how it uses what it knows and how fast it can know something new!”

And you may also appreciate the perspective of Jack Welch, when at General Electric, who said: “Learning inside must be equal to or greater than change outside the organization – or the organization is in decline and may not survive.”

What is a learning organization?

So what is a learning organization?

In simple terms, it is one that is able to effectively tap into peoples’ commitment and capacity to learn, at every level in its hierarchy.

At the recent Bali study meeting, Arnold Chan, chief learning officer for Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, told me that his company’s learning agenda involved:

• Aligning learning and development strategies/initiatives to business strategies through the Bank’s “strategic people agenda”;

• Implementing a strong engagement model to solicit commitment from stakeholders;

• Integrating high-impact learning processes into the Bank’s people-development program;

• Creating a seamless learning portal to offer a wide range of learning opportunities, catering to different learning styles;

• Transforming to sustain the Bank’s competitive advantage in the marketplace.

And Praba Nair, director of consultancy company KDI Asia, and my colleague and fellow keynote speaker at the event, defines some key characteristics of a learning and knowledge organization as one that is committed to:

• Lifelong learning;

• Creating a learning environment;

• Fostering a climate of openness and trust;

• Encouraging free exchange and flow of information;

• Learning & personal development.

The five learning disciplines

But an article on becoming a learning organization would not be complete without mentioning the five learning disciplines described by Peter Senge in his landmark 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline: 'The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization'.

The five learning disciplines outlined by Senge are:

1. Personal mastery – Learning to expand our personal capacity to create the results we most desire and creating an organizational environment that encourages all its members to develop themselves toward the goal and purposes that they choose.

2. Mental models – Reflecting upon, continually clarifying and improving our internal pictures of the world, and seeing how they shape our actions and decisions.

3. Shared vision – Building a sense of commitment in a group, by developing shared images of the future we seek and the principles and guiding practices by which we hope to get there.

4.Team learning – Transforming conversational and collective thinking skills, so that groups of people can reliably develop intelligence and ability greater than the sum of individual members’ talents

5. Systems thinking – A way of thinking about the forces and inter-relationships that shape the behavior of systems. This discipline helps us see how to change systems more effectively and to act more in tune with the larger processes of the natural and economic world.

What is learning?

So what is learning?

Personally, I like simple definitions that are easy to understand. The best definition of learning for me came from KM specialist Hubert Saint-Onge who, at a KM conference in London in the mid-1990s, simply, but profoundly, said that “learning is the process of turning information into knowledge”.

There we have it:

Effective information management, together with embedding the best learning processes and culture throughout the organization, will inevitably lead to the much better creation of organizational knowledge.

But is it really that simple?

Whilst consulting with General Motors (GM) in 1993, I was struck by the company’s approach to transforming its culture into a more collaborative and knowledge-sharing one. Executives at GM asked themselves the question, “Is it possible to bring about a more ‘naturally’ flourishing knowledge-sharing culture?”

In other words, are there any natural principles that we can apply to learning and knowledge driven organizations? We concluded that:

• Trust is the lifeblood of any organization, and when sufficient trust is developed, people will “naturally” want to communicate.

• Open and frequent, two-way communication will develop even more trust and people will “naturally” want to collaborate and work better together.

• More open and more frequent communication of information “naturally” brings about more rapid, more accelerated learning.

• Increased and continual learning will “naturally” increase peoples’ levels of confidence and competence.

• Confident and competent people “naturally” want to share their knowledge.

• Sharing knowledge, naturally, is enjoyable.

Building a virtuous KM cycle

We also concluded that these principles all build on one another and interrelate to form a “virtuous circle” . That is to say that, if you improve in any one area, it will impact and improve all the others. Conversely, if any one principle is neglected, it will also impact all the others, to create a vicious circle of doubt, fear and distrust.

A virtuous circle, will lead to much better “knowing what we know”. A vicious circle, by contrast, leads to “not knowing what we know”.

So GM tried to implement the principles to naturally bring about more trust, improved communications, faster learning and natural knowledge sharing. They sent me and members of their senior management team, to outdoor experiential learning camps in Europe, Asia and the USA where we set about learning how to trust one another more through exercises such as “trust falls” and team activities.

Although we were all blood brothers and sisters in the bar each evening on these trips, that bonding didn’t last in all cases. After returning to work for just one month, it was “business as usual”.

Trust must be earned, not just learned. It develops over a long period, but can be destroyed in seconds.

The next principle was to improve communications by implementing the best communications and information technologies.

But if there is not sufficient trust, this won’t work either. People must want to learn and share knowledge. They cannot be forced to do this.

What worked best, and remarkably well, at GM were the initiatives undertaken to help people learn faster and develop their own personal competencies. And why did these work best? Ithink it’s because this approach answers the key question that most people involved in a KM project ask:

“What’s in it for me?”

Everybody, or certainly most people, want to improve themselves, to develop and grow and to become more marketable and successful. Capturing new learning and ideas as they occur (through both direct work experience and formal training) transforms an organization from an environment of 'episodic learning and innovation' to one of 'continual learning and innovation'.

People are also far more likely to naturally share their knowledge in that environment. As a result, making the principle of improved learning the primary focus was the most successful approach at GM.

Without doubt, learning organization initiatives can work extremely well and can reward individuals, teams and organizations handsomely.

So where does KM fit in?

I claimed earlier that the key contributor to organizational success is the acquisition of the best knowledge and its wise application. The two key words here are “acquisition” and “application”.

Learning is about the acquisition of knowledge, turning information into knowledge. KM should be about having access to, and applying, that knowledge.

So I see learning and KM as two sides of the same coin.

If we look at the roots of the learning organization, it is predominantly about enabling individuals and teams to learn. It began as a bottom-up approach and is primarily a people-centric one.

If we look at the roots of KM, it is predominantly about categorizing, storing, sharing and applying organizational knowledge in a collective and systematic way. It started as a top-down approach and was, initially, more technology centric.

Both complement one another. In fact, they’re highly synergistic. So much so that, over the years, the learning organization has made significant and natural inroads into KM, and vice versa.

Today, I look at mature and highly successful learning organizations, such as Standard Chartered Bank, and see the principles and characteristics of KM embedded throughout the organization.

There’s no doubt in my mind that organizations with strong learning-organization roots will wish to continue their initiatives and efforts in that direction, perhaps under the direction of a Chief Learning Officer (CLO). And organizations that have strong KM roots will similarly wish to continue their initiatives and efforts in their chosen direction, perhaps led by a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO).

Some organizations may wish to continue initiatives and efforts that embrace both disciplines. It doesn’t matter at all. These are simply useful labels, and maybe one day, someone will invent a new label that embraces both.

What does matter is that we constantly remind ourselves of the evergreen business principles that will naturally lead to organizational success and then apply the best strategies, processes, methods, tools and techniques available at any given time to bring those principles fully to life.

Summary Key Points

The case for becoming a learning organization must be based on value creation and measurable results.

Organizations are, an always will be, as good as their knowledge and their ability to transform that knowledge into valuable and successful competencies, products and services.

Learning is about the acquisition of knowledge. KM should be about the wise application of that knowledge. In that sense, both complement each other and are highly synergistic.

What do you think?

Ron Young

More information at:

(The above was first published as an article in KM Review,UK, September 2009.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

KM Principle: Naturally trust, communicate, learn and share knowledge - it's a virtuous circle

One of the most frequent questions people ask me at knowledge management conferences, seminars, and workshops, all over the world, is ‘How do you create a knowledge sharing culture?

It’s a key issue and we are told that over 70% of the knowledge management effort is cultural. That is not to say that KM strategies, processes, methods, tools etc are 30% value, but to say that they are, relatively speaking, much easier to develop and implement.

In response to the question of creating a knowledge sharing culture, I developed a model in 1995 that I still teach, as an effective solution to this key issue. Many people find it to be of great value, and it has certainly stood the test of time, so I consider it to be a timeless principle of effective knowledge management. I describe it here and I welcome any feedback that you may have. I will certainly include all improvements in this article, so please keep posted from time to time.

This article proposes:

1. Seek 'virtuous circles'.

2. You do not start with trust.

3. You do not start with improved communications.

4. You start with learning.

5. Knowledge sharing naturally follows learning.

6. How to put the virtuous circle together.

Seek Virtuous Circles

There are four primary components to this model and I would like you to consider it as a ‘virtuous circle’. That is to say, like a spiral staircase, it leads to higher levels. But unlike a spiral staircase, the improvement of any step in the model will improve all the others, simultaneously. A virtuous circle brings about improvements, as diametrically opposed to a ‘vicious circle’ that is a downward and worsening situation.

You do not start with Trust

The four steps in this virtuous circle are:

1. Trust

2. Communicate

3. Learn

4. Share

But, interestingly, I recommend that you do not start with Trust. Rather, you will see how trust ‘naturally’ builds. I recommend that you start with ‘Learn’ but let me explain, first of all, how the virtuous circle builds, and then why I initially focus on step 3.

As far as Trust is concerned, there is much literature on the importance of this in a knowledge driven organization. Much has been said about Trust. I first remember Stephen Covey teaching me that ‘Trust is the lifeblood of the organization. People work together so much more effectively when they trust one another.’ That is so right, and, in our own private and work relationships, we know this to be true and fundamental.

So how do we build Trust? Well one thing is certain, you are very unlikely to build trust by telling or teaching or even, paradoxically, coercing people to trust.

Trust has to be earned.

Interestingly, trust may be built over a long time, many years even, and trust can be lost in just seconds.

My best personal example of this is when I was part of a team of consultants and facilitators engaged by General Motors in 1993. At that time, GM were very concerned indeed that, due to past management practices, the overall culture within GM and, especially, between GM and its Dealerships and Distributorships worldwide, was very ‘fear based’. It was considered to be very coercive. Generally, Dealers feared that if they didn’t ‘shift enough metal this quarter’ their franchises were at risk.

GM developed their own model to explain this. They called it, at the time, the 6C’s. Three C’s of fear and three C’s of Trust. They knew that people, if continually pushed too hard in ‘Conflict’, would eventually lead to ‘Confrontation’ and if that was prolonged or unresolved, it would end up in a state of ‘Co-existing’. That is to say, people would just ‘keep their heads down’ and get on with their work. This is the typical behaviour of a predominantly large fear based culture.

In a fear based culture, people are generally:

Protective of ideas & knowledge

No Loyalty

Short Term & impatient

Disrespect & political

Individual & isolated


Non communicative - and 'one way from the top'


Feel no responsibility


Scarcity mentality

GM also developed the 3C's of a trust based culture. That is, 'Cooperation' leads to better 'Collaboration', which leads to 'Co-ownership' (responsible partnering together). They knew that if the culture could be transformed into a ‘trust based’ one that they then could expect people to be more inclined to:

Open and sharing ideas & knowledge

High Loyalty

Long Term & patient

Respect & supportive

Inter-connected by networks & teams


Open, frequent communications and 'two way‘ feedback


Feel responsible


Abundance mentality

As you would expect, the characteristics of a trust based culture are diametrically opposed to the characteristics of a fear based culture.

A trust based culture is a ‘win/win’ culture where people all work together for the benefit and common good of all.

A fear based culture is a ‘win/lose’ culture where people focus on getting the best deal as winners, regardless of others.

But GM was certainly not alone with this situation. At least GM became aware of the problem and constructively tried to do something about it.

The problem is simply that in large, dispersed, organizations people cannot possibly know everyone and everything. This will inevitably breed doubt, which is the first shade of fear. In small organizations, people tend to know everyone and everything of importance (not always) and this results in a far more trusting environment.

So, getting back to the importance of trust, and GM, what did they do about it?

It seemed a great idea, at the time, for GM to build several outdoor experiential learning sites. One was in South Spain, one in Indonesia, and one in the USA, to start with. Japan came later.

As a facilitator, my job was to welcome senior management teams, equally from GM and from car dealerships and distributorships, side by side, throughout the Region. My job was to work with them for several days, to teach some fundamental principles through experiential means and debriefs. Increased trust, better teamwork, increased enthusiasm and motivation, were key components of the training.

As a facilitator, I was also expected to complete the exercises myself.

I remember the ‘trust fall’. We had to stand on a six foot high wall and fall backwards, blindly, into our team members arms. Sounds simple, but it was incredibly hard for many of us. We could only do it if we trusted, and let go.

I remember the ‘trust poles’ that were 30 feet high. Harnessed and held by ropes from our team members, we had to climb the pole, stand on a small disc on the top, and jump off. We had to trust our team members completely.

I remember the 50 feet high ‘trust team wall’ which was designed for three people to be chained together and, again supported by ropes and harnesses from our team members, we had to ‘all together’ climb that high wall. No room for leaving any weak members behind. We had to help each other, or else we failed, as a team.

For every exercise, once completed, we had to go back to camp for a thorough debrief. This is where all the feelings and all the new learning’s surfaced. What could we learn from this and take back to the workplace?

I could go on with more descriptions of even more, very effective, experiential learning from team challenges, but I have described enough to make a fundamental point.

Back in the camp, at the evening pre-dinner drinks, the bar had an electric atmosphere that is difficult to put into words. We were all so glad to be alive, and proud of ourselves. We all agreed that we were now ‘blood brothers and sisters’ for life. It really seemed so at the time.

But one month later, away from the exotic locations and back in our normal office environment and routines, we realised that it was ‘back to work as normal’.

We ‘knew’ that trust was important but somehow it didn’t overpower the status quo. We learned that you couldn’t just teach a ‘trust’ course, however well intentioned, and expect sustainability. We knew that the answer was not simply ‘Trust one another! ‘. There was something more. That became clearer later.

You do not start with improved Communications

GM, like many large organizations at the time, could afford to deploy the latest communication tools and technologies. GM had an admirable global technology infrastructure for its time. I remember the enterprise deployment of Lotus Notes groupware, which was probably the most leading information communications technology at the time (I am still very fond of Lotus Notes). Many of us, who were early pioneers of knowledge management, saw Lotus Notes as our saviour, with replicated databases of ‘the whole’ on everyone’s desktop and laptop personal computer. We enthusiastically built nested discussion forums, networks and community spaces, collaborative virtual team workspaces, and key knowledge bases.

I even set up a company in Cambridge on the strength of these developments.

But we learned, over the painful years to follow, that giving people the best information communications tools at the time, discussion platforms, collaborative workspaces and knowledge bases, does not mean that they will use them! The mantra was ‘give them the best technology and tools to share information and knowledge’. Technology certainly provides the great potential to do things better, but we have to turn that potential into reality. And that is not as easy as it sounds.

At least, Lotus Notes can become the most expensive email system in the world, but going beyond that, in new extraordinary ways, was more of a failure than a success. Maybe it was because people were not taught how to properly use these tools, (many of them were left to discover how to use them for themselves) which is a key factor of course, but I strongly feel that the key reason was that people have to naturally want to share information and knowledge, to use these tools effectively, and that does not happen in a fear based culture.

You start with Learning

So, if you do not start the virtuous circle with trust or communications, why start with learning?

This is what I strongly believe. I am convinced that people have to ‘naturally’ want to do things. People cannot be coerced, however mildly, or however sophisticated the initiative to change may be.

I use the word ‘natural’ because I have discovered the following:

When there is sufficient trust present, people ‘naturally’ want to communicate more openly and more frequently and more two-way.

Following on from this, when people communicate information more frequently and openly – they cannot help themselves but to ‘naturally’ learn faster. Also, more open ‘two-way’ communications and better collaboration builds even greater trust.

A simple definition of learning for me, is to turn information into knowledge, whether it’s intellectual learning, or experiential learning, or a combination of both. The Japanese talk about ‘mind knowledge’ and ‘body knowledge’. This I like. Through all our external senses, of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting etc we are learning in the body (example: Don’t put your hand on that hot stove!). Through our inner sense of thinking, we are learning in the mind.

Knowledge sharing naturally follows learning

But learning is far more important than just gaining new knowledge and skills. When we learn faster, we naturally increase our confidence, our self esteem, and our competence, at least.

Now my main point in this article is this. People who are both confident and competent ‘naturally’ enjoy and ‘naturally’ want to share their knowledge with others. They have nothing to fear, but they understand that they have everything to gain by sharing.

It seems to me that people are wired up to ‘have to share’ what they know as part of their continued learning. I am a teacher. But I do not just teach to teach others. I teach to learn too!

To many, the real reward from learning faster, and from becoming confident and competent, is to ‘enjoy the sharing’.

I do recall a Japanese manufacturing company that had a competence system that only had, originally, three levels of competence as follows:

1. Aware of the competence to be developed

2. Able to demonstrate the new competence on occasions, but inconsistently

3. Consistently competent

To my delight, they introduced a fourth level of competence:

4. Consistently competent and ‘able to teach others’

This one level of competence, introduced, created a ‘culture of teachers’. It created a culture of knowledge sharing. And what’s more, people are rewarded and recognised for their levels of competence and teaching others. So it pays to become a level 4 teacher, for both emotional and financial well being!

Let me give you one more example of the importance of the ‘Learn’ step, and then I will pull it all together, and explain the working of the Trust – Communicate – Learn – Share’ virtuous circle.

I was called into the office of the CEO of a major UK Utility company. It employed over 10,000 people. The CEO had a problem. He had attended a breakfast session for CEO’s that I gave in London about building trust in a knowledge driven organization.

He said, ‘Ron, how can I possibly think about building trust when I am now having to downsize our organization considerably? How will people trust the organization again when we have to do that? What do we do?

We analysed the incredibly difficult situation the organization faced in order to survive. We first considered the survivors. That is, those people left, that would not be leaving the company.

We concluded that there would be an initial period of despair and lack of trust. We concluded that some people would lose loyalty to the organization, after so many years of loyal service. We concluded that some people would be looking around for more secure employment. We concluded that the organization would probably move into a ‘fear based culture’ until trust could be earned again.

We also knew that, because of this, people would be very receptive to new learning and competence development. Why? Because this is a ‘heads you win – tails you win’ situation. That is to say, if, at worst, the organization continued a downward spiral, at least the individual would be more marketable and employable elsewhere. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

In the best situation, if the organization invested in developing people’s confidence and competence, then the likelihood of growing again, successfully, would be much greater.

It’s a win / win situation. More importantly of all, it worked! The organization grew out of the crisis and into positive growth. It became, not only a successful learning organization, but it became more competent in applying its knowledge more wisely.

Putting the virtuous circle together

Getting back to the virtuous circle, I propose that one of the best starting points, that one of the best interventions, is at the ‘Learn’ step. This is because:

a) people will willingly welcome this investment in themselves, most of the time

b) as people become more confident and competent, they will naturally want to share more information and knowledge

c) this will lead to a major increase in trust

d) this will lead to a natural need to communicate better

e) This will lead to even more information exchange, faster learning, even more trust and more collaborative working

f) This will naturally lead to more enjoyment in learning and sharing…which will naturally lead to even more increased trust, more open communications, faster learning, sharing etc etc

It’s not just about teaching people the importance of trust. It’s not just about giving people the best information and communication technologies. It’s about developing new confidence and competence through learning, which will then increasingly spark and fuel the other steps in the process, simultaneously.

Can you develop a knowledge sharing culture? No.

Can you develop people to then develop a knowledge sharing culture themselves? Certainly yes.

This is the virtuous circle that will contribute significantly to naturally developing a knowledge sharing culture.

What do you think?

Ron Young

More at:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

KM Principles: Applying knowledge and effective knowledge management is 'situational'.

I received this key question from a reader in the USA to my article 'Knowledge Management - Back to Basic Principles' a few days ago.

"Great article. Like with many new technologies or ideas, we often get caught up in the novelty and forget the basics. This is a good reminder.

Question: Your point 6 on Using Knowledge is key. How do we ensure that people actually use and apply knowledge to their jobs?

Do you know of any research or examples of how people and organizations actually put the knoweledge to use? "

Here is my first quick response to his question. I would appreciate your comments too, and I will gladly pass them on.


I agree. The essence is 'applying' knowledge. For example, for many years I have accumulated some great knowledge about the best foods to eat, and the right exercise, and techniques to relax and meditate. But after all this, I am still overweight and unhealthy and its a very slow improvement process.

I consider myself very knowledgeable in this area, but very 'unwise in applying knowledge'.

I have been a KM consultant since 1995 and I have worked across the world, in corporates, public sector and government, development institutions.

I see the same lack of knowledge application.

No one nation or culture stands out as being better at applying the best knowledge, although I am observing that those cultures that use strong ritual/habits in their daily lives may have a good advantage.

If you look at certain cases, they have to apply knowledge. I always talk in my KM seminars and workshops about the Air Accident Investigation Board. This is because I am a self confessed passionate ex-pilot and love to teach some principles through flying stories. Last year at London Heathrow airport, a British Airways flight crash landed due to both engines shut down on final approach. It was discovered that there was ice in the fuel lines, caused at very cold temperature flying over Russia. New knowledge, to solve this problem, resulted in reducing the power to zero, on engine failure for a few seconds. (The opposite of what a pilot would instinctively expect to do).

Within a very short period of time, this safety directive was with every same type airplane and engine in the world and every pilots checklist was updated for this emergency. This year in a flight in USA, exactly the same icing up happened. The pilots immediately applied the emergency checklist, the problem was immediately solved, and no passenger was even aware of the incident.

This is an example of applying new knowledge effectively because human life is at stake. So you would think that all areas that involve safety of human life would be the same. Not so.

I have been working with the National Health Service in the UK because, although they have very good creation of 'evidenced based knowledge' they are still repeating mistakes because they do not apply it effectively. Several hospitals in the UK are under constant attack for very bad application of knowledge that involved loss of human life. I am working with the United Nations International Disaster Reduction, to find better ways to 'proactively apply' knowledge beforehand to, at least, reduce loss of life and economic loss with better building laws, planning, poverty alleviation, early warning and evacuation procedures etc. But, time and again, we hear from many agencies that lessons are not being learned properly and transferred into readily applicable knowledge from past disasters, tsunami's, earthquakes, typhoons etc.

The daily news is constantly littered with political parties, institutions and organizations not applying knowledge effectively.

The legal profession are trained to abide by precedent. For each case, lawyers ask first 'what do we know about this' rather than much later. There is some good KM examples of effective knowledge application in Law.

But many organizations, teams, individuals are, to be polite, very bad at applying knowledge, even though they may be better at creating knowledge.

(I just read a blog that said Toyota knew about the problems with the car accelerator a year earlier in Europe. Allegedly, this was codified in a database but people didn't know where to find it? If this is true, this is a prime case of failed knowledge application, and car manufacturers need to review their KM systems and processes to include knowledge application practices, like the Air Accident Investigation Board, for example.)

I have strongly suspected, for some time, that it's because most organizations do not have the rituals/habits ingrained in their daily work. They do not have the knowledge leadership, processes and tools to help them do this.

They do not need/desire or have the equivalent of a pilots checklist for their work. Nor the strong need to comply to law.

And this is understandable to a degree. After all, in the daily office, these checklist procedures, for example, would seem very robotic and a deterent to natural creativity. (We want pilots to fly us safely from A to B based on the best safety knowledge and skills, and we want investigative journalists to seriously challenge apparent best practices).

So I agree with the question. It is 'the key issue', and it is the key challenge to KM practitioners. We need to help individuals, teams, organizations and global networks and communities, more effectively APPLY knowledge.

But I also propose that there is no one solution for all. There may be common principles but effective KM implementation is situational, depending on your industry sector, and very key factors like, life saving and human safety, healthcare, climate change etc to take just a few examples.

I wish the Financial sector would learn to apply best knowledge too!

What do you think about 'applying' knowledge?

Ron Young

For more KM Principles (click here)

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