KM is ...?

I vacillate back-and-forth between intense frustration and mild curiosity when faced with the task of defining knowledge management (KM) for law firms. When talking with lawyers about KM, the most frequent response I get is quite curious. “KM? It’s about time we get into KM. It’s absolutely necessary to a firm’s success.” But then when I push for the person’s definition of KM, it’s typically vague or overly narrow. So … how can something so misunderstood be so universally valued? As law firms approach KM and work to bring it into the practice, they will have to answer this first question. Attempting to implement something you can't even define is a recipe for failure. Money spent will be money spent. The reality of this situation is likely akin to the old '10 blind men with their hands on the elephant' story. Everyone can explain how KM will benefit them in a specific way, but they can't describe the parts of the elephant they can't see. Perhaps the real task in defining KM is helping each person understand how their piece of KM fits so nicely into the bigger picture of KM. Finding the common threads and shedding light on them may well be the best path to a sound and useful definition. As Dad always said; "A challenge is just an opportunity in disguise."

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Greg Lambert said...

Good Luck!!

I've found that the grand idea behind creating a KM department within a law firm has somehow morphed from its original idea. Remember "back in the day" when KM was supposed to leverage our past experiences against our current environment and enable us be better prepared to face the future?
Well... now it appears that KM has become so burdened with maintaining technology products, that some of the most brilliant people in the law firm (yes the KM people are brilliant!) are being pigeon-holed into supporting specific products.
We have West km specialists, CRM specialist, Intranet Specialists, Extranet Specialist, so on and so on.... But, we do not have a collaboration between the specialists to leverage these "resources". Instead, these "resources" are the final product, and the goal of KM is to make sure the products don't crash!!
Not exactly the idea I had for what a KM team was supposed to do. After all, it doesn't take brains to bring in good products to support your KM department, all it takes is money. The brains portion is what KM is supposed to do, and that is to remember that you are leveraging the products to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
When we got away from "ideas" and "leverage" and turned to "products" and "stability", I think at that point KM began to lose its identity.
My suggestion is that we turn back the clock and remember why we wanted KM in the first place. If we don't lose sight of that purpose, be it ever so grandiose, then your KM is truly something that creates value for your firm.


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