Book Review: The New Edge in Knowledge

5 May

Post By ILTA KM SC Member David Hobbie

The American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a leading KM nonprofit consultant organization, has released a new book, The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management is Changing the Way We Do Business, co-authored by  APQC President Carla O’Dell and APQC Executive Director Cindy Hubert. The book has its own web site at www.NewEdgeInKnowledge.com.  In my view, this book is a significant development for the field of knowledge management.  While it does not address the legal industry, any legal knowledge management practitioner will obtain tremendous value from this new resource.

It does not focus on any one narrow part of knowledge management activity, such as developing communities of practice; rather, it is a look at strategy, tactics, and execution for enterprise-wide knowledge management efforts.

It moves well beyond old-school KM in that it includes lessons from the related fields of Enterprise 2.0 and e-learning.  In fact, many of the KM successes noted in this book, from companies such as IBM, Mitre Corporation, ConocoPhillips, and Fluor, include use of collaborative technology such as wikis, internal blogs, social networking, social tagging, and micro-blogging.

A work of this scope and scale that fleshes out the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 technology for knowledge management is most welcome (dare I say overdue?).  The authors call this activity “social computing” and suggest that it is valuable because it increases the number of content authors, decreases the time it takes to share information, and greatly enhances intrinsic motivation for valuable knowledge activity through providing employees more control and, yes, more fun.

A wry forward from my favorite KM Guru Larry Prusak lays out three principles of the early knowledge management efforts that in retrospect were flat wrong:

1) Instead of knowledge as a static, measurable resource, it is better understood as a dynamic flow;

2) Working with knowledge is not primarily about technology, but instead is a primarily human activity requiring human organization and understanding; and,

3) As a result, early KM’s focus on the individual practitioner was misplaced, and organizational knowledge should be treated and understood as social, and social and community practices should be a key component of knowledge work.

I appreciate that the authors acknowledge some of traditional KM’s failures in the business world, but still argue forcefully that “organizations still need to get information and knowledge from the employees who have to those who need it.”

The book is based on two decades of KM research and details how to develop a meaningful and measurable KM strategy, starting with 90-day cycles of strategy development, project development and execution. I found particularly helpful the detailed discussion in ch. 2 of how to have a strategic discussion about your organization’s knowledge.  I hadn’t encountered another resource that spelled out what questions one should ask in such detail.

You should ask your attorneys questions such as, what knowledge is critical for your firm’s current competitive advantage?  What knowledge might improve your firm’s position in the future? As they note in the book, getting KM focused on what will provide the most value has the dual benefits of helping establish buy-in (the cart will have horses) and starting projects that will generate meaningful, measurable results, measured through usage, increased efficiency, and enhanced effectiveness.

While there are stretches when the book can be a little abstract, the authors have enough real-life examples of knowledge management solving real-world business problems to keep it concrete, and the steps they propose are sufficiently definite to be immediately actionable, in the way that they advocate all information should be.

In sum, I agree wholeheartedly with one reviewer on Amazon who writes, “I wish I had this book years ago when my program [read:  KM career] was first ramping up.”

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2 Responses to “Book Review: The New Edge in Knowledge”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Session Report–Creating An Optimal KM Value Strategy « ILTA KM - August 30, 2011

    [...] (Ed.-I would also recommend ch. 2 in APQC’s “The New Edge In Knowledge”, reviewed earlier on this [...]

  2. What Makes ILTA Social? Sharing At Conference And Implications For Knowledge Work « ILTA KM - December 22, 2011

    [...] I am brought back to Larry Prusak’s wise admonishments in the Forward to “The New Edge In Knowledge” (reviewed here): [...]

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