Posts Tagged ‘subject matter expert’

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.

Knowing What You Know – and Doing Something About It

September 16, 2010

“If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times as profitable” Lew Platt, HP

I love that quotation, and wish I could thank Lew Platt for saying it.

This blog covers some of that ground, but also gives an historical example to use as reflection on two basic problems in making use of what you know or even being in that position at all .

As I wrote in a different blog, science advances pretty much inexorably overall and so indeed does business, but delays in diffusion or acceptance of knowledge may be pretty devastating to those directly involved, and the happy recipient of the value of knowledge may not be you, even though technically, you might “own” it.

Take Ignatz Semmelweis for example.

In 1847 Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, concluded after ruling out other causes that contagion was responsible for the high death rate due puerperal fever in the obstetrics ward, and he reduced the untimely deaths from nearly a third of deliveries, to less than 1% – simply by requiring doctors to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution.

Unfortunately it was decades before other scientists and doctors came to the same conclusion, and improved sanitation became the standard.

In the mean time a great many women and infants died, and Semelweiss himself had a nervous breakdown, according to some, as a result of stress and despondency at the unnecessary deaths.

So while science as a whole got to the right conclusion in the end, it came too late for the women who died or were injured by puerperal fever.

Part of the problem was an “Old Guard” of physicians who simply didn’t want to accept what was published by Semmelweiss, and had to retire or die before younger physicians without the baggage replaced them.

Another part of the problem was that many doctors never got the message – the publication was not global, it was only in German (His book “Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever” wasn’t available in English until the early 1980’s), and no mechanism existed at the time for indexing it in other countries or even advertising it within Germanic countries – this was after all 160 years ago and The Lancet was yet to come into existence and email was far over the horizon.

So the problem seems to naturally separate into two distinct areas

  • A cultural resistance to change and to novel ideas
  • A problem of awareness, and of simply knowing that the knowledge existed

Cultural resistance can be addressed by leadership and building an attitude of mutual support and sharing, but may require stronger tactics – like moving people. Change management is also crucial to reduce the perceived and actual disruption, and ease people into accepting new ideas.

Improving awareness on the hand sounds easy but whereas in 1847 the potential audience was starved of information from peers, today we have the opposite situation – infoglut.

The idea ecosystem is already crammed with competition and they crowd each other out, so the challenge is to find ways to tunnel through the abundance of conflicting information and highlight the few that we want to use.

Oddly enough, this may come back to leadership again, but not the hierarchical corporate power structure. Instead what we want to leverage is the leadership of SMEs – people who are the recognized experts and thought-leaders in the organization.

By implementing a framework in which the approval or authorship of the acknowledged experts is visible to others, it is possible to build the leadership into the process itself.

This can range from leveraging the opinion of your SMEs to making sure you get your money’s worth from failures, but at the very least it implies knowing what your SME’s read and use, how they rate it, and what they say, is made visible so that people can follow their thinking.

Sitting around hoping that knowledge will naturally flow to where it is needed and be used by those who require it, is not a luxury that any business in a competitive market can afford. If you don’t take positive steps to get the knowledge to those who need it, and find ways to put knowledge to work more readily, your competition will.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


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.

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