Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion
I have to start by saying that I am a knowledge management sceptic despite working for a KM consultancy (TFPL) from 1994 to 1999. I’m fine with ‘Knowledge’; it’s the ‘Management’ bit that I find difficult to accept. I’ve tried hard to read many of the standard KM books over the years but have found it difficult to translate KM into practice. Probably the only exception has been Common Knowledge, by Nancy Dixon, as I could see immediately how her approach could be applied to the sort of companies I work with, and you will note that it does not have ‘management’ in its title!
So when this new book by Patricia Lee Eng (formerly with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and Paul Corney arrived a couple of weeks ago I dispensed with the trumpets and red carpet. However since I have known Paul ever since my time at TFPL I did feel a duty-of-care towards him and made some time to read it. Navigating the Minefield is published by ASQ Quality Press. I quickly discovered that this book did not try to convert me through preaching about the benefits of KM. I’ve had a high regard for the concept of story telling ever since first meeting Stephen Denning some years ago and hearing about his work at the World Bank. This book is full of stories, and they are presented in a way that I found most engaging. The authors interviewed over twenty managers in a wide range of commercial and public sector organisations and this book contains far more than edited transcripts.
Certainly the personal experiences of the interviewees comes across but so also does the experience of the authors in knowing who to interview, what questions to ask and what lessons to present. This is especially the case with chapters on keeping KM going, killing KM (always so useful to learn from disasters), an outline of what the authors regard as exceptional practice and a fascinating chapter on ten outcomes that surprised them. Chapter 8 is about Eight ‘Ates’ and I’m not going to disclose the conceit (which has two meanings – select the correct one!) of the title. The book ends with some reflections on the role of KM consultants, a list of books recommended by the interviewees and a good glossary. The quality of the writing is excellent and you cannot tell that it was a team effort. An effort it must have been as the journey from interviews and stories to print cannot have been an easy one. I have to note that the index (created by the publisher) is very unhelpful to readers who will wish to dip into the book from time to time for guidance and inspiration. The quotes in the page gutters are a triumph of design over value.
The strap line of the title is A Practical KM Companion, and that is exactly what it is. It does not set out to be a ‘handbook’ but it most certainly is a handy book to have. This book succeeds brilliantly because it conveys the benefits of the management of knowledge without trying to sell ‘Knowledge Management’. It is already on my instant-access bookshelf. It should be on yours as well.