Posts Tagged ‘knowledge worker’

The Ethics of Knowledge: The Taboo Topic of Our Times

November 11, 2013

This blog post doesn’t set out to provide any great answers, but hopefully lays some of the groundwork for the question of knowledge ethics.

Usually discussions about knowledge management revolve around the perennial topics of technology, teams, and talk. If we aren’t exalting or defiling the latest SharePoint application or collaboration platform, we are arguing about teaming and communities, or expanding on how everything is about stories and story telling. The one topic that never seems to enter the fray is ethics. When is sharing morally right, and when is it better to hoard or hide, than share? What about employees and employers that lie about knowledge?

What of secrecy and privacy?

Let’s roll back time a little – It wasn’t all that long ago that doctors routinely held back information from patients, and especially so from women, and the concept of a “freedom of information” law was not just absent, but was unthinkable to most governments. It wasn’t that healthcare providers were swine back then and dead set to harm their patients, in fact reading the medical texts from then, it was thought to be a kinder and more responsible thing to do than to burden the patient with unwelcome knowledge. Now, of course, we see this as unconscionable paternalism at best, and outright abuse at worst – which of course begs the question of what we might be doing right now that future generations will look at and wonder “just what were they thinking?”.

The one area in which the ethics of knowledge gets some play is in ownership of knowledge, largely because money comes into play, but also because of the concept of secrecy.

First the money

Almost all cultures have some sort of regulation of intellectual property – knowledge that can be said to be somebody’s property, to use, rent, or sell as they see fit. Therefore, patents can be held by someone and denied to others, and the owner has legal recourse if that knowledge is used in any of a number of ways that they don’t want. Intellectual property laws and treatments have expanded over time from simply protecting logos and brands, and patents and copyrights, to making some forms of intellectual property a fungible asset in the eyes of the law. In some cases, one can use a copyright or patent as collateral for a bank loan, and patent auctions, swaps, and collectives are a frequent feature of modern business.

It this sense, there are a few quandaries about who exactly owns rights to knowledge that somebody acquires through the course of their work or as part of their career. Most employers ask that employees sign expansive intellectual property rights over to the employer, and many of these are probably neither legal nor possible to enforce. We might then ask how moral it is to try to turn the employees mind into a lockbox, and to attempt to deny them the basic freedom of thinking up new ideas, to synthesize experiences into knowledge, or seeking to improve their station in life by applying that. Should the employer have first rights to something that developed in the mind of the employee, forever? Seems wrong at so many levels.

That was the easy part.

Development and beneficiation

It is probably safe to bet that everyone comes to work on their first day with some level of knowledge that is needed in the organization’s value chain. Presumably, the payment of wages is recognition to some degree of this knowledge, and that the employer pays for its use in achievement of organizational goals. When firms pay for training or when training is carried out during paid hours, the firm invests in developing knowledge that they expect to be used towards operational goals. Many firms require the worker to remain in employ for some period after training, and this is explicable in terms of the value of the knowledge, or at least the cost of creating it. By that standard, the worker owes it to the employer to apply that knowledge to achieving operational goals set by the employer. It becomes less clear when the employee takes the experience of work itself to increase their knowledge. Does simply being in that environment create a duty on the part of the worker if that exposure leads to them having new knowledge? Employees may carry out studies on their own time, or undertake other forms of discretionary self-development that result in a growth or refinement of their knowledge. Do they owe something to the employer for the exposure to a work environment that develops their knowledge? Does the employer owe the worker something if they put that new knowledge to work in the interests of the organization? Sometimes organizations clearly do reward self-development either in the form of direct pay-rate raises, or indirectly through expanded roles or promotion.

Hoarding and Hiding

In the plainest sense, hoarding can be either ethical or unethical – there may after all be reasonable justifications to keep a private stash of knowledge, whether that is tacit or explicit. For example, if the existing knowledge repositories are unreliable, one may simply set up a personal cache to prevent downstream risks of needing it and not having it at hand. Some forms of hoarding, however, may imply that the knowledge is thereby unavailable to others who might need it as part of their work. In knowledge hiding, knowledge is withheld from access by others; it may also be deliberately kept secret so that others are not even aware of its existence. One might argue that in some firms there are abusive or manipulative environments that might make it ethical for the worker to respond by hiding knowledge, but clearly, there is an intention to do harm at some level. As an aside, knowledge hiding may be a clear indication of a lack of attachment when the worker hides knowledge at work that is of value in the course of business operations.

Plain old lying

In a similar vein, and perhaps more frequently, workers and employers may mislead each other with regard to knowledge they claim to have. An employee may give indications, either overtly or tacitly, that they have knowledge or a level of knowledge that they do not in fact have – perhaps taking payment for a state of knowledge that they do not actually possess, especially when they are offered a job based on knowledge they claim to have. In the case of employers, there may be an impression created that they will provide the worker with access to knowledge or opportunities to develop knowledge that do not exist. Employers may lead the erstwhile worker to believe that they will be exposed to knowledge that will be of value in terms of their professional development. Most commonly though, the employer may mislead the worker as to what knowledge they will be using in the course of the role. Many workers discover to their immense disappointment that the true nature of the role they accepted is unlike what they were led to believe, and that skills and knowledge they anticipated using, lie fallow. In cases where these skills or knowledge are core to the person’s self-identity, the person may experience severe and even debilitating stress.

Some experts estimate that up to 80% of job applicants lie about the knowledge they possess, but this is probably dwarfed by the degree to which employers lie about the opportunities that employees will have to use, develop, and acquire knowledge that will be to their benefit.

Up close and personal

People also hold that some things are private and even secret to an extent, and that escape of that knowledge can be harmful to varying degrees. This may range from practical knowledge of how to do something in the sense of knowledge hoarding or knowledge hiding at work, to the intimate details of beliefs and preferences.

The other side of the coin is those who disclose or steal knowledge that is held to be secret by others. Sometimes this is done with intent for a beneficial outcome to the person whose secret is being revealed – such as that they have quietly performed pro-social work, or that they have valued talents or attributes that they didn’t advertise. Often the disclosure is harmful even when no malevolence was intended, such as inadvertently “outing” somebody who preferred to remain anonymous about their donations to a charity, and finds themselves embarrassed by the disclosure. It can also be intentionally harmful, such as the atrocious phenomenon of “revenge porn”.

People even withhold knowledge from themselves, either choosing to be ignorant or selecting to ignore aspects of themselves or others that they prefer not to believe. People routinely rationalize their behavior to maintain a positive self-image, and may become angry and combative when brought into a situation of cognitive dissonance.


With knowledge becoming ever more salient to business survival, the advent of social media, and the disappearance of employment for life, the ethics of knowledge will become an increasingly pressing area of discussion. There are many features to knowledge ethics, and many stakeholders, and it is high time the knowledge management fraternity and business managers rolled up their collective sleeves, gritted their teeth, and got involved with it.

Activity-Based Auditing and Workflow

October 14, 2013

In 2011, I was building an on-boarding plan for an innovative aftermarket logistics model at multinational electronics firm, and I needed to have a knowledge audit element.
Since auditing of knowledge, while not a fully mature science, is at least a very well trodden area of Knowledge Management (KM), I had no doubt that I would find a suitable auditing model within a few looks at the work of fellow KM practitioners, a glance in my bookshelf, or a few minutes browsing websites.
However, to my surprise, although there were indeed a great many knowledge audit templates, none fitted the level of detail required for a production line environment like the one I was facing.

As a result, I needed to build a knowledge audit model almost from the ground up that would match the workflow nature of the business environment in a highly complex and large electronics repair organization that was geographically spread across the world, and which included an integrated supply chain. The target was a reverse-logistics chain that included the customer, a call center, logistics partners, multiple repair centers, and the original equipment manufacturer.

Once the model was created, the basic methodology was published in the JKMRP as a position paper on critical activity knowledge auditing for other KM practitioners to use[1]. Although the intention was to solve a practical gap in a specific area of reverse-logistics, it was obvious in retrospect that the audit model was well suited to any environment in which there are specific goals served by a documented workflow, from clinical and surgical environment, to manufacturing and repair industries. In response to requests to expand on the paper, the Ark Group (a Wilmington company) published “Knowledge Auditing: an Activity-Based Method for Organisational Success” [2]. (Free intro and sample chapter available for download).

Like many long journeys, this one started with a very innocent-looking question: How does the person carrying out this task know how to do it?
Yet when I asked this in practice for repair activities, it became obvious that there was some uncertainty about something that was critical to success.
Laying out the flow sheets of how the repair process worked, it was clear to everyone what sequential steps were to be carried out, and there was reasonable agreement on whom the actor would be, but less clarity on how they knew how to execute.

You might ask why this is important to anyone, yourself in particular.
There are three market pressures and three areas of neglect that make this important, and if you don’t have a solution, you are going to be buried.

Firstly the market changes:

  1. The “Silver Tsunami
  2. Market Turbulence
  3. Globalization

Now the areas of neglect:

  1. Hiring is a mess: In most firms little better than flipping a coin, in many a horror of wasted talent and superstition that is exceeded only by the secrecy and invisibility of just how bad it is. Hiring is typically done with no regard to knowledge.
  2. Training is ineffective: Usually decoupled from the actual job and doing little more than putting “bums on seats” (however you would like to interpret that).
  3. Job instructions are useless: Mostly people have to interrupt each other or create their own “cheat sheets”, which are often out of date, faulty, or downright irrational.

The most knowledgeable people are going to be leaving, there are too few replacements, and those replacements don’t have nearly the training and knowledge of those leaving. The time taken to on-board or even fire up off shoring is excessively long, and efficiency is way down and matched only by worker disaffection.
The market changes rapidly and big players in the top 500 vanish so fast that one can scarcely keep up, while disruptive technologies and business models spring up as if from nowhere. In addition to new customers, new competition, and rapid changes in technology that demand very agile responses and planning, the share of market capitalization has shifted dramatically over the last fifty years. In figure 3 the asset components of the S&P 500 market value is broken down between tangible (standard) and intangible assets. Clearly what a firm knows has become far more important in most cases than what tangible assets like property, equipment, and even cash balance they have.

Figure 3. S&P Market value by asset type Courtesy Ocean Tomo

In a globalized world, new competition and new customers will spring up wherever the market is, not where traditionally located or preferred, and those firms who are unable to rally flexible knowledge application are at a strategic disadvantage to those who know what they know and know how to scale up or down to match market pressures.

If your business has a workflow, then the audit process is designed to identify, on-board, and support workers faster and better, and to result in improvements in the organizational objectives served by those workflows.
The audit does so by making hiring, training, and job aids closely tied to the actual task execution.

The basic auditing principle is not all that hard when one looks at it coldly. The firm comes about to having an actor with the right knowledge, in the right place, and at the right time by some combination of:

  • They were hired to have that knowledge already;
  • The actor was trained in some way; or
  • A job aid would be provided to them at the time of execution.

Precisely which knowledge and what it pertains to would require a bit more granularity, and that hides in the diagram in figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Workflow Sub-Structures

However, this obviously entails a lot of analysis, so another core component of the audit is to focus only on the knowledge that is individually necessary and also collectively sufficient to achieve the organization’s critical goals. After all, organizations have a lot of knowledge that really isn’t on that critical path between work and their main organizational aims. Figure 2 traces the path from the organizational objectives to the individual tasks that lead to their achievement.

Figure 2. Critical Path

So what should you do?
Here’s my suggested shortlist:

  • Gather a team to perform an audit to identify the critical workflows and to audit the knowledge needs
  • Update hiring practices to match the actual knowledge needs at an activity level, and throw out vague and wishful role-based hiring methods
  • Refactor training to align with work activity knowledge needs
  • Build a knowledge base of job aids suited to the activities in the critical knowledge value chains, and that will deliver job aids in a fashion appropriate to the working conditions
  • Build an audit practice that monitors for deviation and applies Lean principles to fixing wasteful workflow

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


1.    Loxton, M.H., A simplified integrated critical activity-based knowledge audit template. Knowl Manage Res Prac, 2013.

2.    Loxton, M.H., Knowledge Auditing: an Activity-Based Method for Organisational Success. 2013, London: Ark Group.

Matthew Loxton is a certified Knowledge Management practitioner, and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Matthew works at WBB as a senior analyst applying KM principles to Health IT implementation. Matthew holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

Why KM isn’t going away anytime soon

September 4, 2012

There have been a fair number of people in the blogosphere over the last few years who have trumpeted that KM is “Dead” – some of them mean it in an ironic way or simply as a provocative hook to get eyeballs on their blogs, some think the way we understand KM is changing and that the old ways are “dead”, and some actually believe that KM is a term best ceded to IT and that the next shiny thing beckons – be that complexity, agile, or something else.

The real acid test is whether there is an increase in the number of jobs that are either about KM or require some degree of expertise in it, and whether they mention KM activities or compliance with KM practices as an essential part of jobs – But this is something I can’t answer just yet, since getting Monster, Indeed, etc. to pony up data on what KM jobs there were over the past decades is not easy.

Until then, let’s look at three things that would individually drive a need for Knowledge Management.

  1. Business variance and volatility – i.e. “Turbulence”
  2. Increase in the share of firm’s market capitalization due to Intangible Assets
  3. Demographics

My position is that the swell produced by each of these three market dynamics would individually create a need for Knowledge Management, but that collectively they make it an imperative – firms that do not get this right are in my view already dead men walking.


One of the markers I look for in firms to tell me if Knowledge Management is likely to deliver ROI, is the degree to which they are subject to variation and volatility. To get a metric on that I measure inter alia the following:

  • Change in regulations, laws, technologies, and players in their market space.
  • Product churn and variation
  • Staff turnover, skills variation, and performance variation.

Many economists have a similar measure that they simply call “Turbulence”
Here’s an interesting image that is typical of a measure of turbulence that just keeps showing up wherever one looks. It is a measure of business change in terms of new startups, mergers & acquisitions, business closures, etc.

This example is focused on healthcare, but as I said, the same shape keeps showing up – very little turbulence in the decades prior to the 70’s, with an explosion in the 90’s, and a small amount of calming running through the oughts, but no sign of anything like a return to the stable days of the 50’s and 60’s.

(HBR, 2012)

This is the “new normal” of the business world, with turbulence of an order of magnitude higher than what was previously “normal” and a status quo in which turbulence is a constant companion.
The days of a person doing the same job for decades, or a firm staying in the same business, or ownership of the firm staying constant are gone and never to return – and consequently, the ability to acquire knowledge fast, to be able to use it effectively, and to be able to “manage” one’s knowledge assets both tacit and explicit are critical to survival both for individuals and for organizations.

Intangible Assets

As per the image from Savage (1996) there was a time when “wealth” pretty much meant owning land – Being a big landowner meant having status, position, power.
Then it shifted to access to labour and wealth meant being able to acquire, mobilize, and manage a workforce.
Then it was having access to capital to fund business operations.

… and now it means controlling knowledge.

(Savage, 1996)

Over the last century, the proportion the market value of a publicly-traded firm that an auditor could capture with the balance-sheet in one hand and a pencil in the other has gone from over 90% at the start of the 1900’s to a low of under 20% in the 2010’s. The balance is made up mostly of “Intangible Capital”, and was often tossed into a bucket marked “goodwill”.

(Ocean-Tomo, 2010)

In fact, if you look at the data from Ocean Tomo, just since 1975 the proportion of market value of the S&P 500 has gone from just 17% to 80% in 2010.

So picture this if you will – you are an investor, and you have a bag of cash and want to grow it by purchasing a firm that you believe stands ready to take advantage of new needs and to generate a tidy profit for you (or your backers). You send in the bean-counters, and they take stock of the firm, ticking off as they walk the premises every line item on the balance sheet – raw materials, buildings, plant and equipment, finished goods, cash in hand, etc. By the time they have met with your banker (who might also want to see the results), and have walked the floor, they could give you circa 1910, an account that was close to 90% accurate as to the worth of the firm.

No doubt you would be happy with this statement of affairs and you could make the purchase with not too many sleepless nights.
Barring unforeseen circumstance, all should be well and the small amount that was unaccounted for and lies in the entry marked “goodwill” was merely icing, and if push came to shove you could just sell off the assets and still be in the black.

Fast forward to 2012 and your accountants return to you a balance sheet and inventory that reflect only 20% of the value of the firm, and they report that they think that maybe there is another 80% hidden in the “goodwill” line, but they aren’t sure. It may be 0%, it might be 90%, they just don’t know.
You spend days with your stomach churning, and if you represent investors, you fret over how you will explain this.

At this point investors, bankers, analysts, and increasingly shareholders, are simply not satisfied.
Leaving 80% of the value of a firm to guesswork simply is not acceptable, and they have various plans afoot to force firms to identify the value of their intangibles – ranging from the SHRM attempt to have value metrics for Human Capital, to more complex evaluations of the worth of a firm’s knowledge.

2012 saw some banks put dollar value against patents for the purposes of loan collateral, and who can forget all the patent auctions of 2011-2012, with more no doubt coming.
IC is no longer something that is seen as a bit of icing, it is now the major part of the cake itself – >80% in fact.

Demographic Change

We talk a lot about the “Baby Boomers” and their immanent retirement, but have you ever actually seen it?

Here is what a population pyramid for Germany looks like:

(Source US Census Bureau 2012)

What this means is that there are way fewer people in each age-group following those who are now at the peaks of their career, and the number of people entering the job market won’t be able to fill the spots as the groups above them shift up and the oldest shift out. The bulk of that 80% of value represented by IC lies in the skills, knowledge, and traits of the knowledge workers you employ – and generally the older ones are the most valuable to you. They know how, they know what and when, and most of all, they know why.

If you create a population pyramid for the Knowledge Workers in your firm, you might be in for a nasty shock (especially those of you with a need for highly-skilled practitioners such as engineers, planners, and managers) – you simply might not have enough people to replace the older skilled workers as they shift out of the job market, and you don’t have all that long to figure out what to do. In fact, in some firms it is already too late, they are simply going to go bust as their older and most experienced and qualified people retire.
The best such firms can do is plan for a somewhat orderly shutdown.

Knowledge Management

Let’s agree not to play “definition” bingo and to go down the rabbit-hole of the myriad somewhat-overlapping definitions of “Knowledge Management”, and suffice it to say that what we are trying to achieve is to have a clear picture of what the organization needs to know in order to execute its operational activities, to organize, regulate, control that required knowledge, and to maintain levels of it sufficient to meet operational needs.
So if we were to lay out an ISO9000 diagram of all the operational processes necessary to achieve the organization’s tier-1 goals, and then determine for each activity in the flow what the person would need to know, we would arrive at a list of what knowledge was minimally necessary (and perhaps not even sufficient) to meet EBITDA and other requirements.

The terrain in which KM practitioners operate is for the most part that of Intangible Capital, as depicted below.

(Adams & Oleksak, 2010)

The role of the person(s) responsible for Knowledge Management in the organization would be to see that the needs for knowledge were identified, to identify and measure the degree to which these were met, and have a plan and processes to make sure that the organization acquired, maintained, and put to work that knowledge in the most cost-effective and timely manner possible.

This is not going to be the IT guy any more than the IT guy is responsible for running the finances of the organization.


There has never been another time during which control over knowledge assets has been more important, and firms that do not have a robust knowledge management practice humming along will experience very high rates of failure as we track forward.
Far from being “dead”, knowledge management is going to be a significant determinant of which firms survive, and which roll over and sink as the combined effect of turbulence, the value of IC, and demographic change swells up around them.


Adams, M., & Oleksak, M. (2010). Intangible Capital: Praeger.

HBR (2012). The Volatile U.S. Economy, Industry by Industry Retrieved 09/04/2012, 2012, from

Ocean-Tomo (2010). Intangible Asset Market Value Retrieved 09/04/2012, 2012, from

Savage, C. M. (1996). Fifth generation management : co-creating through virtual enterprising, dynamic teaming, and knowledge networking (Rev. ed.). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management practitioner, and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Matthew holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

It’s Time for a CKO

June 18, 2012

This blog post is a companion piece to the presentation I gave at the June ICKC Practitioner’s Meeting in which I presented slides and discussed some of the history of the launch of Knowledge Management, and why now is a critical time for firms to have a CKO. The title of the presentation was “Time for a CKO?” and was the second presentation of the meeting after “The New Economics” by Peter Bretscher.

The full slide-deck is also available both as a pdf and as a power-point slide deck at SlideShare

The Big Flop

In the 80’s and 90’s “The Knowledge Age” was the new fancy idea, and was taken up mainly by gurus like Drucker, but also several business academics.
Unfortunately the hype quickly overtook any ability to deliver, and consulting firms and software companies pounded money out of it and it quickly turned into a fad.

The idea was good, but the terrain was unprepared and consulting and software simply wasn’t going to deliver an ROI – Management didn’t know how to “do KM”, nobody was quite sure what the objectives were, and there simply were too few actual KM practitioners to even make a dent in it.

The result was an expensive, highly visible, and embarrassing belly-flop.

Back to Basics

So let’s just revisit two of the big moving parts driving KM and for the moment ignore all the practical reasons for KM like faster on-boarding, reducing waste, increasing quality, etc.

Two major changes have been underway historically – where wealth comes from, and the proportion of corporate value that is due to intangibles.

Firstly, wealth has changed in principle source from real-estate during feudal times, to being able to command labour and capital, to a current situation in which knowledge is the primary source of wealth.

Over the last hundred years, the measurement of corporate wealth has shown an increasing shift from property to ability. At the turn of the last century a firm’s wealth was made up primarily from its ownership of tangible assets – real estate, equipment, stock, and cash, but by the arrival of the early Knowledge Era, this had already been shifting

The current era is marked by a shift in the balance between the contribution to EBITDA and Market Capitalization in favor of Intangible Assets, and this is deemed likely to continue for several decades.

Secondly, the share of Intangible Capital as a share of the market value of firms has changed from a historical norm of <20% in the 1970’s to a current situation in which IC accounts for over 80% of a firm’s value.

illustration of the split between tangible and intangible value in the S&P 500 rising from 20/80 in the late 70’s to 80/20 in 2005

Knowledge was seen by Drucker, Senge, and others as being the only remaining way that firms can stay competitive in the Knowledge Era, and the major source of differentiation amongst competitors. These days every firm has more or less the same access to capital, raw materials, basic labor, and equipment as every other, and competitive advantage is no longer a matter of merely securing access to resources or materials.

The thing that separates Apple or 3M from the lower-order players is not physical assets but knowledge and acumen.

At the same time the people that track market valuation have been noticing an increase in the “Q” value that Tobin derived by comparing the market value of a firm with its physical assets and cash.
What has been increasingly obvious since the mid eighties is that the gap has been rapidly widening and that it seems to be stabilizing at around 80% of a firm’s market cap being attributable to intangible assets.

Source Adams & Oleksak (2010)

As per the International Association of IC Practitioners (IAICP), these include:

  1. Relationship Capital such as customer goodwill, reputation, and referrals
  2. Human Capital such as skills, knowhow, and expertise
  3. Structural Capital such as processes, patents, and trade secrets

They also add a fourth component, “Strategic Capital”, which I take as being the overlap of the first three that are individually necessary and collectively sufficient to achieve organizational strategic objectives.

Where Are We Now?

“Intellectual property has become one of the most important resources in the 21st century. It’s now an accepted fact that, just like financial capital or commodities or labor, IP is more than an economic asset – it also forms the basis of a global market”

Manny Schecter, chief patent counsel at IBM. (Forbes 2012)

Nonaka provides a model that distinguishes between knowledge that people can turn into documents (Explicit) and knowledge that either can’t be expressed or is locked away in their heads and practices and maybe even something they were unaware that they knew (Tacit). His model provides ways to move explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge (like studying and practicing the cello), tacit into tacit (like an apprenticeship), tacit into explicit, and explicit into explicit.

In support of this much has matured since his model was devised:

  • Many colleges and universities now offer master’s and doctoral programs for KM, and several institutes such as the Knowledge Management Institute and KM Pro offer certification courses for practitioners.
  • Several KM journals are published, amongst which the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice has a rated impact factor.
  • KM interlocks with several other fields – at one end with the TQM, Lean/6Sigma movements, Applied Psychology, and Operational Research, and at the other end with Finance & Economics through Intellectual Asset Management and Intangible Asset Management

In addition, many large and innovative firms employ KM – from 3M to Xerox, including Deloitte, Dow Jones , Forrester, Fujitsu, Gartner, Google, HP, IBM, Lexis-Nexis, Pratt & Whitney, PWC, Siemens, World Bank , etc.

The primary areas of activity for KM are in workplace collaboration, management of innovation, the development of occupational communities in which standards of practice are refined, and corporate valuation through increased discovery and accounting of intellectual assets.

So where are we compared to the 80’s and 90’s?

The reasons for the lack of mainstreaming of institutionalized Knowledge Management have all fallen away, but the reluctance is still dwelling because of that memory in the minds of many executives. At the same time we have several emergent and increased pressures for institutionalizing Knowledge Management.

  • Technological changes and adoption rates continue to climb
  • You cannot simply put 80% of an organization’s worth under “goodwill”
  • The trade in IC has increased sharply over the last decade both for defensive and product development uses.

Simply put, IC is becoming fungible.

… and even being considered as collateral for loans by banks.

Return of the CKO

The CKO is not a new role, but one which holds increasing relevance in an age where knowledge and other intangible assets form such a large proportion of value, and in a time when retirement rate reaches 10,000 people per day in the US.

The CKO should be the structural keystone that brings IC and knowledge in particular under a single umbrella of scrutiny, management, and governance.
The days in which a firm’s knowledge could be left to the day to day operational dynamics are long gone, and it amounts to corporate suicide to leave knowledge management to chance.

To be sure, everyone “does” Knowledge Management, just like every firm “does finance”, but leaving it to chance implies that it is not likely to be done well, nor done in a fashion that enhances the likelihood of achieving organizational objectives. In much the same way that a CFO does not personally own all the money in the organization but provides governance, guidance, and a framework under which money and physical assets are managed and accounted for, the CKO should do the same for knowledge and IC.

Knowledge Management straddles all operations of an organization, and at its heart asks a simple duo of questions: how does a person know what they are meant to do, and how do they know how to do it?

In this sense KM overlaps on one side with HR/Recruitment in terms of what skills and experience a person needs to have prior to joining the organization in order to execute the assigned activities in their role.
KM also interfaces with Learning and Development in order to make good on knowledge that must be taught in addition to those “just-in time” job aids that must be presented to a worker at the time of execution in the form of knowledgebase articles.

On the valuation side, KM interfaces with Finance to establish value of knowledge artifacts and the abilities of staff.

KM provides both tactical and strategic support for the organizational mission as far as knowledge is concerned – from operational knowledge-bases, to Communities of Practice, to valuation of Intangible Capital such as trade secrets, methods, procedures, copyright, patents, etc.

In addition KM provides the framework and basis upon which those could be bundled or commoditized to make them available for franchising, leasing/licensing, or sale.

Is it For You?

The CKO role, and in fact organized and institutionalized Knowledge Management, is not for everyone, and the research shows consistently that there are several factors that are indicators that institutionalized KM and a CKO role would deliver a strong ROI.

The higher a firm rates on these items, the more likely there is to be a positive ROI for institutionalized Knowledge Management.
Here we deal with the three broad areas.

  1. The Business Model
  2. The Organizational Culture and Environment
  3. Volatility & Variability in the business terrain

Variability and Volatility deserve special attention since the more fluid and volatile the market, products, and labor pool are, the higher the need to be able to learn quickly and adapt fast and be able to lower the risks of volatility by having on-hand knowledge that represents the best and most current available.

To find out for yourself, try two surveys that I have built

  1. The KM Fit-test Survey
  2. The KMOL-C climate survey


The time to institutionalize Knowledge Management is now – the game has changed and all the old obstacles are either solved or no longer significant hurdles to implementing a formal process to gain control of IC.
There has never been a time in which pure knowledge in the form of know-how and know-who determine the value of a firm, and ongoing survival is going to depend on gaining a high degree of management capability over intangible assets.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Expert Wisdom and Slurping up Context

December 20, 2011

Most firms employ experts, and let’s be honest, don’t really use them much.

Considering that being smarter, that is fielding better knowledge resources, than one’s competition is a key survival criterion in business.
After all it is putting knowledge to work, or the actual deployment of Intellectual Capital that is typically what makes one firm survive and another die or get eaten.
So it is curious that many firms fail to leverage their expert’s discretionary effort, subject interest, and awareness.

In this blog I will provide a practical technique for using your experts better to increase your holdings of Intellectual Capital and for improving your firm’s awareness of its business environment, and perhaps even taking another step in the direction of becoming a learning organization.

In a recent webinar for the ic knowledge center I presented some ideas on Knowledge Management & IC and you are welcome to download the presentation slides from the ICKC website, or to join the conversation.

Objectives of Knowledge Management

Firstly, let’s just remind ourselves of the two main forks in Knowledge Management objectives

  1. Operational Excellence
  2. Niche Mastery

In the first we want to put knowledge to work and by doing so to reduce cost due to wasted effort and duplication, increase output and efficiency by replicating best practices, and by propagating knowledge across the organization.

In the second we want it to be seen that we do this, and make it clear to potential customers, investors, and would-be employees that we are masters of our craft and market niche.

Expertise is the gold, but alone it is insufficient – you can’t just have expertise, you must put it to work in as many ways as possible in order to make it a competitive advantage rather than just an “also-have”.

The Learning Organization

As I have outlined in previous posts, a major cause of corporate mortality is failure to learn – in essence a fatal learning disability.

One of the primary features of such a learning disability is an inward focus and a steady loss of awareness of what is going on outside the firm – such firms stop using external events and information to drive change within their organization.
For a firm to learn I believe there are several components that must be satisfied.

Inter alia, a firm must successfully engage in and master:

  • Environmental Awareness
  • Processing & Contextualization of external information
  • Deriving Synthesis & Meaning from external information
  • Adaptive Behavioral Change

A firm needs its experts to be aware of what is going on in the world and specifically in terms of their area of expertise, to have a high index of curiosity, and to do something with what they see.

Specifically, what I have in mind is that they will place a context around things that would otherwise simply pass the rest of us by unnoticed or unmarked, and as a result the firm will adapt to external conditions and innovate.

How an Expert Tags Novelty

What this means in real terms is that I want experts to be aware of things going on in the outside world, for example news items, events, technological changes, and market movements, and then to pull those into the firm, and provide an explanation of what this means, how it is relevant to what the firm does, and finally, to suggest actions that could put this to use for the firm.

In the presentation I give two examples, but your use is likely to be different and should be driven by your experts because they are the only portal through which new ideas can enter your firm without triggering the embedded immune systems that usually crush novelty as a form of error.


Here then are the steps I suggest you use in getting your experts to pull in Intellectual Capital for your firm

  1. Capture Content from external sources
  2. Provide a Context from the eyes of an expert
  3. Explain why this is Significant to the firm
  4. Add an Evaluation to test message integrity
  5. Provide a Social Environment for interaction
  6. Layer with advised Actions

Although hosting the content in a CRM, LMS, or Wiki will help, don’t prioritize IT systems over the people element – most KM practitioners I have polled believe that people-factors account for 80-90% of the success of this kind of thing, and technology only 10-20%. So spend proportionate amounts of time and effort on organizing, motivating, and helping the people and don’t get distracted by the shiny IT toys.


Experts are often underutilized and pigeon-holed into highly specific roles that reduce their effectiveness as agents of organizational learning that can boost operational performance and increase adaptive capacity. By deliberately encouraging your experts to retrieve found articles of information from the outside world and add value to them by explaining context and implication to the firm, and by specifying recommended actions, the expert can extend their value and that of the firm.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions. Matthew is a peer reviewer for several Knowledge Management and Information Science Journals.

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