A sneak preview of my up-coming column in the next edition of Inside Knowledge

During my childhood, I wiled away many an hour with school friends and a pack of Top Trumps cards. For the initiated amongst you, Top Trumps consists of a set of cards based around a particular topic.  (In my day, it was ships, racing cars, Olympic medallists or dinosaurs. Today, it’s more likely to be X-Factor contestants or Harry Potter characters).  Each card contained statistics about the car or dinosaur in question, which enabled you to compare scores with your friends and – if you chose the right category – to win their favourites until you possessed all of the cards.
One of the side effects of overdosing on Top Trumps would be the ability to recall facts and figures about any card.  To my slight embarrassment, I can tell you without pausing that the 0-60mph acceleration of a 1978 Lamborghini Countach is 5.6 seconds.  Too bad my short-term memory is  unable to recall  where my own car keys are right now!

Last month I had the opportunity to work with a network of business improvement professionals (the I&I Network) who wanted to understand where knowledge management tools and techniques could complement their world of LEAN, Six Sigma and Kaizen.  Sensing an audience of potential Top Trumps sympathizers, I made up packs of “KM Trumps” for them to play with in pairs for ten minutes.   For my categories, I chose:  Cost, Return on investment, Learning curve, Geek Factor and Engagement Effect.  I had difficulty stopping their game to continue the workshop with them! I found that even in those few minutes, everyone picked up on the breadth and variety of tools which we place under the KM banner.  When all 36 cards were laid out, with their categories visible it was easy for my group of improvement specialists to make an informed selection about the tools and techniques which might best fit their own organisations.  They could tailor their own custom toolkit with just the right amount of “Geek Factor” and not too much learning curve.

One of my bugbears in KM circles is the way in which the labels KM 1.0, KM 2.0 and even KM 3.0 are used – as though knowledge management is only allowed to exist in a number of quantum states; or it’s a branch of scientology…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan and big user of social media, and I think it has brought energy, connectivity, serendipity and a real-time edge to the field of knowledge management.  What it hasn’t done is to supersede the fundamentals of KM – the value of conversation, the importance of learning and reflection, the power of communities of practice, the need to both summarise and provide stories to preserve context.  Superceded?  No.  Provided a welcome shot of adrenaline?  Absolutely.

I believe that as KM professionals, we have a duty to remain aware of, and open to, the new tools and techniques which come our way.  Where we add value is in explaining how and when an approach or combination of approaches can have the biggest impact.   That might mean that this year, your organisation is KM 1.6, and next year it’s KM 2.17.  It’s our job to find out what number our organisations need

Sometimes we might be surprised that a simple, established KM tool has the biggest impact, just like I was surprised when my school friend trumped my prized Lamborghini card with his Isetta Bubble Car.  All because he was smart enough to choose fuel consumption as his category, rather than acceleration!