Next wave is where KM is not even mentioned: a dive into KM Asia 17

The view from KM Asia 17

This was the first KM Asia event run by Ark Group I’ve attended in Hong Kong. Part of an Asian tour that also took in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and comprised Masterclasses and presentations, I was there to give a talk on Collaborative Knowledge Spaces and run the hour long closing session styled thus:

KM competencies: A day in the life of a knowledge manager in 2020 “This highly interactive practical session will use a timeline technique to draw on the emerging themes of the conference. Paul will look at the skills likely to be required of a Knowledge & Information Manager in 2020. He will then invite delegates to imagine the life of a knowledge manager in 2020″

No pressure then!

In prepping for the “future story” session I was indebted to Andrew Curry of Kantar Futures who I met to discuss one of the frameworks he uses to help clients imagine their future. Here’s how I used it in my presentation to paint a backdrop for the future.

The backdrop:

  • The world’s working age population (especially in the developed world) is shrinking
  • Big disruptive technology platforms emerge every 50-60 years or so. The current ICT (digital) wave is slowing down because the leading companies are no longer able to grow easily by adding more users; they need to find innovative ways to grow revenues per user, and this is challenging.
  • Global growth is slowing: its a combination of demographics (how many people are working) and productivity (how much they are producing). Fewer people of working age means fewer people to support an aging population.
  • Societal values are changing and the newest entrants to the workplace place less value on individual financial success and security, and more value on good work done for a good cause.
  • Climate scientists suggest that by 2050, the average global temperature will have increased by anything between 0.8 and 2.8 degrees above levels in 1990. The implications for the world’s resources are significant and will in the shift to nationalism precipitate conflict.

A good crowd at KM Asia on Day One

So, what emerged from 2 very full and well attended days at the Royal Pacific Hotel Hong Kong and my closing session?

what surprised me?

  • The group takeaways (3 highlights from each day) revealed how dfferently we see things and thru our own lenses.
  • How few people had focused on the idea of curation being a role that the “Knowledgeur” (Knowledge Manager of the future?) might be required to fullfill.
  • That one organisation who focuses on inspecting others did not have a process for feeding process enhancements and learnings back into their own.

what intrigued me?

  • That those who’ve offshored functions are looking to bring them back in house as they now recognise the danger of critical knowledge loss.
  • That the chat bots being used for basic ‘stuff’ cannot handle difficult complaints which are then passed over for human intervention.
  • The thirst for accreditation: people and organisations want recognition for their knowledge and a KIM career path.
  • That Hong Kong is still going through a massive building boom fuelled by demand from the mainland.

what delighted me?

  • Rudolf D’Souza’s opening exercise with ‘Knowledge’ money
  • Three of the best presentations I’ve seen at a KM event on morning of Day Two from Eric Chan, Vincent Ribiere and Rudolf D’Souza. Set the bar high for my closing session!
  • Meeting up with a former client and friend Olivier Serrat (formerly of ADB).
  • The response to the closing session. Forget the scoring (6.4/7) and the nice feedback comments, the big plus was the enthusiastic way the delegates engaged with the exercise and were willing to ‘grab the mike’ at the end to tell the story of why their team had won a 2020 KM Award. More on that below.

what frustrated me?

  • That few knowledge partnerships deliver according to Olivier Serrat. The majority of time is spent sharing news about the partnership.
  • Jet lag: despite getting to Hong Kong early I was still tired from lack of sleep 5 days into the triip.
  • That the ‘facilities’ were on another floor accessed by stairs and quite prescriptive in their use!

what was missing?

  • Representation from the 3rd sector many of whom practice Knowledge & Information Management on a shoestring yet have developed some of the most effective tools and techniques.

quotes I took away:

Km has gone thru peak of inflated expectations which AI is now going thru (Les Hales)

Every company should have an anti strategy (Dave Aron)

Explore, Learn, Share, Ask, Incubate! (Ricky Tsui)

Technology should support not lead, it can’t understand rituals of people (Rudolf D’Souza)

and finally: what the delegates took away?

As part of the closing session I asked delegates to get into groups of 5-6 with people they had not met during the event.  I invited them to then reflect as individuals on the 3 “takeaways” they had from the morning and afternoon on both days.

Though simple it none the less brought to the surface ‘stuff’ or presentations that had made an impact. I further invited them as a group to consolidate their own findings.

And when that was complete to circle the room and see what others had noticed.

One group’s highlights from each session

It proved to be an entertaining as well as an insightful session.

Looking forward to 2020 was the last exercise of the event. Having drawn on Kantar Futures research and brought to life my thoughts on the future role of the “Knowledgeur” (KIM’er of 2020) I asked the groups to imagine they were the recipients of an award and to describe what they had done to win it!

The ‘stories’ were brilliant and this (with grateful thanks to Nick Stone who captured the recording) was one of the best: KM Asia 17: KM in 2020 Future Story

If you want more on the event I was among a number who provided regular tweets and those can be found here: KM Asia 17 Twitter Stream


knowledge management I an old wine in a new bottle?

I was back in Khartoum for a couple of days at the end of March at the invitation of the Sudan Engineering Society and University of Khartoum.  They’d asked me to talk about knowledge management, research into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ and the implications for Sudan.

Apart from the honour of addressing 150 or so engineers, acadamics and ministers on Wednesday at the National Telecomunications Center, my presentation at the Faculty of Mathematical Science on Thursday was made at the end of the working day (so at the start of the Sudanese weekend) to a crowd of nearly 200 including families.  It brought home to me how keen the Sudanese people are to learn and exchange ideas especially since the Campus had only just reopened after a period of unrest.

Knowledge management as a formal discipline is in its infancy in Sudan. There are pockets of good practice albeit under different labels and many companies are following the well trodden path of focusing on technology such as an intranet as a way of storing ‘stuff’.  It’s not easy though operating in an environment which restricts access to software updates as an example. That said there is a groundswell of interest led by Dr Gada Kadoda who is mobilising a group calling itself the Sudanese Knowledge Society who are about to meet formally for the first time.


Photo Taken outside the National Telecommunications Center Khartoum with some of the founding members of the Sudan Knowledge Society

The Khartoum presentations prompted an interesting exchange with one of the participants who attended both. Here with his permission is an extract.

Hi Paul

Thank you. I have attended both sessions. All day on Wednesday and the Thursday evening session… Few years ago while I was working in the UAE, I came across The European Business Excellence Model and the work of Peter Senge at MIT ( The Learning Organization ). Is this KM a new Fad, old wine in new bottles or is it a real contribution to your management thinking? It seems to me I am getting mixed signals…. To this day I still remember Business Processes Reengineering, as advocated by Prof Michael Hammer at MIT
Best regards


The Rio Tinto video (about a Community of Practice) in my humble opinion is a Quality Circle drill, which was helped by the advance in ICT…

And my reply:

Dear Mustafa thank you for your kind words and the background.

You raise a number of interesting points, let me answer them in sequence:

  • Old wine in a new bottle: to continue the analogy, if it is then it is ageing quite well as some 10 years ago Professor T D Wilson at Sheffield University in a paper entitled ‘The nonsense of knowledge management’ wrote the following:

The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the ‘knowledge management’ idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads. It rests on two foundations: the management of information where a large part of the fad exists (and where the ‘search and replace marketing’ phenomenon is found), and the effective management of work practices. However, these latter practices are predicated upon a Utopian idea of organizational culture in which the benefits of information exchange are shared by all, where individuals are given autonomy in the development of their expertise, and where ‘communities’ within the organization can determine how that expertise will be used. 

  • Yet today as our research has indicated people and organisations are organising themselves to make better use of what they know and if knowledge management is a convenient label to achieve that then who are we to complain.
  • Quality Circle vs Community of Practice: Yes and no would be my response.  However for me the concept of a quality circle is much more around a particular incident (yes that was highlighted in the clip) but the idea of a Community of Practice is that it represents an ongoing and dynamic resource. The bigger point here I think is that the engineers were able to post something onto the platform used to run the CoP and locate people who’d had the same experience.
  • As to BPR and the other management ‘fads’ I would say there is a difference.  I see km as a horizontal thread running across the organisation; its a way of doing if you like a common sense approach to improving the sharing of what people and organisations know.  BPR et al gave no consideration to the transfer of know how from experts about to depart or how to bring people who’ve just arrived in the business up to speed as quickly as possible. Where km falls down is that it is often put into a corporate siding – the place where communications, marketing and HR don’t want to tread and as a result does not have the institutional clout that more established disciplines have.

km has been written off many times and yet as research into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ has uncovered there are still a large number of people engaged in km type activity. Even with km in their job title (and many still don’t) they are having significant impact and reach across their organizations.

Yesterday for example I received a copy of the excellent Asian Development Bank Intersections digital newsletter and was drawn to an article entitled Ahead of the curve: the long reach of short tales by the Knowledge Management Center headed by Olivier Serrat which said

In 2010, ADB embarked on its most ambitious story-driven exercise yet. It launched the ADB Sustainable Development Timeline multimedia project, which currently hosts over 11 hours of sympathetic reminiscences and expertise rendered in video from 72 ADB staff. The material is broken down into 1–5 minute snippets covering a veritable plethora of topics, e.g., communities of practice, corporate governance, gender equity, forest conservation, knowledge management, renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, etc. But, beyond these, the interactive platform also contains short documentaries of projects shot on location, sounds, B-roll footage, animations, graphics, voice-overs, videos, statistics, photo essays, etc. The product has been warmly received, both in and outside ADB, and augurs well for ready use in staff recruitment and induction, learning and development, conferences and other events, education, and external relations.

I am looking forward to continuing this discussion when I am at the 5th International Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning Summit in Bogota in May. More on that in a later posting.