Knowledge Management: The Disease Model of Knowledge Transfer.

Suppose you wanted very much to contract a really good disease – how would you go about it?

Time is fleeting and money is tight, so you wouldn’t want to blow your budget and time only to contract an insignificant disease and wind up out of circulation with something mundane, –  you want a prize illness, something to enjoy and treasure.
No mere case of sniffles, and as entertaining as a dose of pink-eye might be, it would prevent you from mixing with people and getting one of the really champion diseases.

Obviously then you need to be a bit selective and therefore know a bit about which diseases are likely to meet your expectations and budget. – Maybe not a Miss Universe of diseases like necrotizing fasciitis or Ebola, but not Miss Ditchwater either.

Perhaps a trip to the doctor and local library or travel clinic would be in order for a good recon, and then do exactly the opposite of what they tell you to do – Don’t wash your hands, do put your fingers in your nose, mouth, and eyes after touching other people or biological material, don’t avoid certain foods, and do drink the local water whenever possible.

It is probably fruitless for most of us to stay at home and hope wistfully for a really solid dose of cholera, so you would need to go to where the disease is endemic or has a reliable reservoir

Once there, staying hidden in your hotel room will make disease procurement difficult, so you will want to mix with a lot of people – join the Mardi-gras, participate in local weddings, wakes, and sports, and especially where people breathe on you a lot, some body fluids might be in evidence, or you might encounter the odd needle-stick.

Tarry awhile – it won’t help if you whiz in and flit out again, people won’t invite you into their homes, let you pet their livestock, or drink their home-brewed beverages if you don’t stay around long enough for them to meet you and become acquainted enough with you to share.  (this is where the selection of location comes into play, and why it was important to do a bit of homework)

You also need to be careful at this level of granularity to be selective of exactly who you hang out with – it isn’t going to do you any good if you picked the local doctor or cleanliness fiend to hang out with, and you aren’t going to pick up anything remotely interesting from their pets if they keep them clean and free of parasites. Also it will profit you not if they are the sort of cold-fish touch-me-not types who sit at opposite ends of a 16-setting dinner table.

No, what you want are the gregarious types – people that swig from your glass and offer you morsels from their well-sampled plates, or are likely to kiss you on the mouth and cough a lot.

You not only need to pick the right kinds of people, but also know what signs to look out for. Fowl and livestock running about in the house is a good sign, a dog that scratches itself a lot is promising, and symptoms of actual infection is a very strong signal to embrace them and spend the night.

But then what of the mechanism of transmission – should you kiss a lot of people, share a comb, swap clothes, use each other’s needles, trade parasites, …?

Obviously knowing something about the pathogen itself and the routes it prefers to use for infection would be helpful and save a lot of time. Exchanging body fluids with somebody with a dose of schistosomiasis just won’t get you anywhere, and going through a painful exercise of swapping skin-grafts with somebody with pneumonic plague on offer is just wasteful – why go through a whole lot of bother when a simple cough would do?

Once you contract a satisfactory disease, you want to let it incubate a bit, and pay attention to all its intricacies and nuances. It doesn’t help getting blotto on vodka and missing a whole phase of it.
Reflecting on what you have is an important part of the experience, so don’t just rush headlong into seeking the next adventure – otherwise why spend all this effort getting something if you aren’t going to pay attention to it?

The final part is of course to make sure you have adequately documented and recorded how you obtained it, and what you got in case you (or somebody else) want to repeat the experience.
Which brings me to another very important part – in the spirit of the thing, you have somewhat of a duty to share not only the details of how you procured your prize disease, but also in passing this information and the disease itself on to as many people as are interested or who might benefit from it.

Knowledge Management

Back to knowledge, the same basic steps apply:

  • Know something about the knowledge you want to acquire and why
  •  Find out where it is to be found and go there
  •  Seek out experts and people who already know something about it or how to get it, and most importantly, what methods to use.
  • Locate people and places where it is found and engage with them, don’t hurry it – part of knowledge acquisition is entirely social
  • Learn how to recognise the signs of its presence and who will be helpful in providing it
  • Know something about the best medium of transmission – is this a face-to-face deal done orally, or do you get a pdf, or download something, or get photocopies.
  • Know how long it is going to take to learn
  • Revise and review and reflect so the knowledge adheres
  • Document
  • Share

Finally, importing mature ideas from other disciplines and adapting them to novel use is a good knowledge management practice, and one of the prime drivers of scientific and technological innovation – and it saves a whole bunch of money and time by using ideas that are already paid for (probably by somebody else).

That’s my story and I am sticking to it


Matthew Loxton is the director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management.

Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and has an aggregation website at
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by
Mincom, but they should be.

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3 Responses to “Knowledge Management: The Disease Model of Knowledge Transfer.”

  1. WhiteLine Says:

    You have tested it and writing form your personal experience or you find some information online?

  2. Knowledge Management: The Disease Model discussed « Matthew Loxton's KM & OL Blog Says:

    […] readers of my blog on the Disease Model of Knowledge Transfer might have justifiably wondered if I had been typing after a few beers. Admittedly it was a joy to […]

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