The Knowledge-Carousel

It is turning around … around … around … and around. Always the same turn, always the same things in view. With changing perspectives, but actually always  at the same place. Sooner or later just boring. And once you overwind … well, mhh … might become unsavory.

I exactly feel like sitting in such a carousel since I seriously entered the world of Knowledge Management (KM). I regularly find myself hanging around at places where people interested in good knowledge working meet virtually or physically, like KM blogs or meetings of like-minded colleagues. In any case, places where people with a greater awareness for the importance and value of Knowledge Management are, many of those knowing each other already for quite a while. “Knowledge workers”, “knowledge experts”, “knowledge managers”, “knowledge enthusiasts”, “knowledge evangelists”, gurus, consultants, etc. pp..

We then intensively discuss the meanings of terms, theoretical and innovative concepts, as well as why so many companies are such ignorant regarding the benefits of KM. Assumed that you are such a rational guy like me, you can glory in that, and without doubt you will meet a lot of interesting people. And normally all will agree, that they know how it works … or as it actually should work.

And it’s true. We know how it could be done, efficiently and with maximum value for a company. But … it is completely for nothing! Well, yes, it always has been nice to talk to each other again. But finally with zero impact on real life. At the end all together spin around, and ever and anon the same people are having the same (philosophical) discussions. They feel comfortable with each other and don’t need anyone else. People know each other, appreciate each other, understand each other.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding. The strategies and concepts developed and discussed by us “knowledge experts” are in general really good and trendsetting. They have the potential to substantially change and improve enterprise knowledge sharing. It is just never applied. Somehow none of all the good ideas and solutions becomes real, in a true implementation. I frankly do not understand so far what leads to failure, and I am thankful for any hint.

By the way, this general tendency for parallel universe seems to be common with all “managements” (Information Management, Knowledge Management, Innovation Management, …). Perhaps a fraction of the problem is within the name already (also see “”Knowledge management is the wrong attitude“).

As a first step I decided to have real life feasibility and implementation as my personal benchmark in the future. I say yes to hot air … if a turbine is driven by it. And I don’t really expect it to be the big strike, the complete new knowledge strategy within the company. I also accept minor steps and improvements, if they go into the right direction. And by the way, this fits to the latest crowd-intelligence-social-media-hype in Knowledge Management (which to my opinion is absolutely overrated … but that’s another story).

One important thing with carousel rides is not to miss the right moment to get off and back on solid ground. Otherwise … as mentioned before, well mhh …

Knowledge Management is the wrong attitude

Does knowledge need to be properly managed?
Will knowledge be increased or improved by managing it?
When I heard about “knowledge management” the first time in the late 90’s, this phrase was mostly used to describe what in my humble opinion was more related to information management. To collect and save pieces of information. And to have tools for proper data mining, so, to re-find previously collected and stored information. Also a honorable mission … but no true knowledge management. And a mission that is also still not finally accomplished. Sure, things have substantially improved, there are better tools and semantic tagging. But we all still suffer from fighting ourselves through exponentially increasing volumes of information day by day.

Then after a while the term “knowledge management” was occupied, misused and spammed by a wide range of software vendors. Even elevator control systems claimed to manage knowledge. BTW, quite similar to what still happens to “business intelligence”, … or did you observe a BI-software-related increase in intelligence related to business during the last years? If at all? (but this is another story to be continued somewhere down the blog)

Most knowledge management projects simply failed as knowledge obviously is a matter of human brains, not of IT. To avoid any misunderstanding, IT offers a fantastic range of tools and structures than can support knowledge sharing. And I greatly appreciate that as well as gratefully use those tools. But you just cannot limit knowledge management to IT. A while ago I joined an event with a superior manager, who answered a question on the company’s knowledge strategy with “we soon will have a new CIO and then things will improve”. No surprise than there was absolutely no advancement for years.
In contrast, there was this young entrepreneur who founded a knowledge management consulting business. His strategy was to infiltrate client companies with a team composed of an IT expert (for the supporting hardware/software view), a business consultant (for the financial and business process view), and … a psychologist having the mission to identify gaps and bottlenecks in the internal teamwork and related communication culture. Because knowledge can also be a matter of personal advantage and power. Unfortunately,  at that time the world was not ready for this innovative concept.
Now, during the last few years, communication functionality, social media and learning technologies came more and more into play. They finally shifted the understanding of knowledge management towards the more holistic concept. Knowledge is not managed … but created, communicated, shared. Knowledge is something living, something cultural. And – most important – the mission of knowledge is to be used instead of being stored.
After all, honestly spoken, I am not sure that I want anyone to “manage” my or others knowledge. I would prefer to be part of a living knowledge culture, supported and driven by the management.
In even doubt that knowledge can be managed at all.
What do you think?

Geman Post

Semantic Knowledge Management

I would like to share this article that was once published by Patrick Scholler in my former online journal Inside-Lifescience. I think it is worth not to be lost …

Semantic Knowledge Management

by Dr. Patrik Scholler, Sciconis GmbH

Do you believe that the internet is a powerful and gigantic database? It appears so. If you search for “genomics technology platform” by Google, you will receive immediately 654 documents about the subject, truly a gigantic amount of information and unfortunately too much to read. It is kind of interesting in a statistical sense, but does it help you in answering the question you have in mind? You would probably either try a different search string or start reading from top or you might simply continue working with your old genomics technology platform. Interestingly, somebody else might not even name it so, even if he had the same. He might call his high-throughput robot ‘liquid handling device’, one of fifteen possible synonyms, and would only have to deal with 23 documents. But what good are 23 documents when you miss the 654 plus a lot more, containing important information for you to take the best possible decision. In any case, getting exactly what you mean is difficult, using the internet with today’s search engines.

But it is obvious, that there is an enormous amount of valuable knowledge hidden in these petabytes of internet documents or between networks of all documents. Content is related by associations, as patents on genomic devices might contain information on companies producing pipetting robots? If you only could access the most useful documents and related links directly, the internet would be like a gigantic database or a reference library. If it answers your most complex questions without you having to read anything, it could even be called your personal consultant. Sounds futuristic, but the future becomes today every now and then. The hidden wealth of answers, the knowledge you are striving for, is like the message inbetween or beyond the rhyming lines of poetry. And being associative enough, implicity can be accessed. Finding the documents you mean and intelligently ranking and visualising the result to receive directly your answer without having to read them, are two important aspects of semantic knowledge management. In contrast to searching for strings of syntax it is about finding needles in haystacks in virtually no time. This becomes ever more relevant with every new day the internet’s data keep exploding.

What can you achieve with semantic knowledge management today, which has been impossible in the past? You could – for instance – perform as many market studies as you want without paying for a time-consuming survey.

Imagine, you have 24 hours and you would be urged to analyse 200 of the top pharma and biotech companies for their activities in 40 different fields of interest (e.g. protein design, SNP typing etc.) in order to characterise their market potential for your products or to find a market niche or the most common application or the companies that will be your individual top 30 customers. To check for all combinations means to perform 8,000 internet searches. Each search would deliver something between 0 and 10,000 internet pages: documents, news, quotes, patents, company homepages, and online-reports etc., where the company name is associated with one or more applications. If you checked only the first 10 hits for each search, you would have to read up to 80,000 documents and extract manually the information to fill your excel sheet. This would take one to two man years and is simply impossible. With semantic knowledge management software you can access the content of the first 100 hits of the search results to “company name and research”, automatically download the documents and correlate a full text analysis of 20,000 indexed documents. Novel software tools (Sciconis) would read through all documents with each combination of a company name (including all possible synonyms and abbreviations) and an application (including all possible synonyms in different languages), which is 8,000 combinations multiplied by at least 10 synonyms each. The number of hits per document are used to rank the companies according to the number of company-application collocations. For an overview and two-dimensional navigation the results can be ordered and displayed in a 3-d diagram:

This diagram contains too much information to manually deduce all answers for every useful question, e.g.: “which group of companies is more active in drug development type of applications than in basic research oriented ones?” Projecting the results by mathematical operations to condense the content of this information in regard to your individual decision process, you will receive the following plot:

Now you can immediately zoom into any zone of your interest and take instantaneous decisions on the basis of an information quality not achievable by any other means. Of course, you still have the documents and you can decide to read as many as you want. But you could also start a different semantic search and answer your next question and simply boycot reading.

Originally published in November 2001 by Inside-Lifescience, ISSN 1610-0255.