Bringing up baby

It’s been quiet here for a while — there are various reasons, some better than others…

Anyway, I thought it would be worth picking up the posts again with a comment on Edgar Tan’s equation of KM implementation with child rearing.

[W]hile KM roadmaps are usually linear from start to finish, actual KM implementation is far from so. It’s more like snake-and-ladder, where you sometimes have to go back a few steps before you can move forward.

It’s also like raising a child. There is a rough roadmap that parents follow – teach the kid basic survival skills; send the kid to kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, then university. Hopefully, at the end of all that effort, the kid will become a productive member of society. There is a logical progression to this broad roadmap, but wait. Just because a kid has entered into kindergarten doesn’t mean that he’s ready for it. Just because an undergrad has entered into university doesn’t mean that he’s mastered everything up to that point.

I like the analogy, but a couple of things about it make me uneasy. Edgar goes on to conclude: “The job of the KM Team is hence to make sure that the organization gets to the end of the KM journey, so that KM will become a valuable contributor to business success.”

In my experience, only the simplest journeys end up as intended. Bringing up a child, like knowledge management, is not one of those journeys. When I plan a trip to the shops, my journey to work, or a long hike, I can be confident that I will get where I intend to go. There are a few external factors (traffic jams, train delays, bad weather) that might cause a detour, or abandonment of the whole trip, but it is less common that I get a significant diversion. When that does happen (as it did to my wife last month when she broke her ankle and wrist in the Lake District) the intended journey becomes irrelevant — a new plan is necessary. (My wife’s new plan involved the fine volunteers of Penrith and Patterdale Mountain Rescue Teams — if you walk in the hills, supporting these people is truly important.)

So, as the proverb has it, “circumstances alter cases.” Crucially, this must mean that even the best plans may have to be abandoned. This is not quite what Edgar is arguing, I think. He is suggesting that the roadmap creates a kind of inexorable progression. Once we have decided what the destination should be, we should carry on with our plan to get there even if the way we intend to take is blocked.

Given that the destination might come at considerable cost, and that cost is likely to increase if we take a roundabout route, I am not sure that we should remain committed to it.

More significantly, the things that hold us back as knowledge managers or parents might actually be fundamental. If our markets change, our business needs to adapt to those changes. It would be foolish to carry on with a KM roadmap that leads to a destination fit for the previous situation, if it would not also fit the new one. Surely a better approach when faced with a child that is not quite ready for university is to allow it to develop in a way that best suits its abilities. Likewise, an organisation’s KM roadmap must surely also be susceptible to regular review and revision.