Creating Leaders for the Knowledge Age: Douglas Weidner

By: Yadira Y. Caro

In the field of Knowledge Management, becoming a Certified Knowledge Manager or CKM, is a symbol of credibility. It shows the certificate holder has an understanding of the field, which focuses among other things, on managing intellectual assets of an organization, creating a culture of sharing and of course, using tech to achieve this.

Douglas Weidner, Chairman of the KM Institute, has certified thousands of people around the world for over 20 years. Furthermore, he was the one who develop this certification. As a certificate holder myself, I was curious to know what drove him to create a CKM and how he sees its future.

In this interview, Douglas shares insights on his journey, addresses the debates in the KM field and why it is important to be passionate about what you do.

Why did you choose KM as a career?
Good question, applicable to almost everyone. My answer is in two parts.
The first part is more generic – about how to choose a career by paying attention to the drivers of success. The second part is about how I personally chose KM. So, here’s a principle. It’s all about passion, the key driver of success.

I believe that there are many aspects to choosing a career that will become successful for you, if you have the luxury of choosing. By success, I mean you ‘love what you are doing’ and are very engaged in doing it, not that you make a lot of money, though if you love what you are doing you will no doubt outperform your peers in that career field.

The proven drivers of success include: You have a passion for doing the kinds of tasks associated with it. That encourages you to perform those tasks very well. By kinds of tasks, I mean at the granular level of your very personal set of traits. Are you analytical vs not so much so or not at all? Do you crave being with other people rather than independent work? Do you love developing other people? Do you love to learn? Are you very self-confident? There are over 30 such traits, but about five to ten define you. Traits don’t define an industry sector, but do define what types of jobs you will love within any industry.

Another (driver of success) is to have a real passion for what the job allows you to accomplish. For instance, do you really believe in the organization’s mission and objectives? Would putting an astronaut on Mars excite you? Would curing at least some form of cancer satisfy your life’s ambition? Would transforming the world from the computer-driven Information Age into the human (knowledge) -driven Knowledge Age, challenge you?

Douglas Weidner

Those two drivers will enable you to have a good shot at a very successful career.

Now on to how I personally chose KM. The answer to that question is more complex than your followers might expect. It is a story in three parts.

In 1994, I was working for a think tank and designed for the Department of Defense (DoD) a very granular, Knowledge Base Tool (K Base). It housed DoD’s Business Process Reengineering (BPR) methodology, which I had helped define and document. To me, a K Base had the capability to provide a K Nugget to the right person at just the right time. I was doing one aspect of KM, but I didn’t really know it.

In early 1995, when Knowledge Management (KM) definitely rose above the horizon, I realized what I had been doing was at the very core of the systems-oriented KM of the late 1990s. But a granular, process-oriented perspective, which is what I had worked on, was different than a traditional repository/portal, which was emerging as the dominant KM system initiative. A repository is a digital library of the organization’s policies, processes, statutes, regulations, marketing info, etc. Think documents.

So, I joined a large commercial IT consulting firm to lead their KM market entry. The KM consulting team had a staff of one, which was me as Chief Knowledge Engineer. We had some consulting success, not so much in terms of billable hours, but rather as a marketing arm, what I often described as the point of the spear. I was the point of the spear. I introduced KM, after which the profitable spear shaft (IT projects, whether KM or not) often followed.

By the late 1990s, when I might have retired, I had developed an abiding passion to make the KM discipline a real success, to change the world, so-to-speak. I saw a specific need for rigorous KM training, not just a KM101 but specifically a KM certification program, which I first offered as the Certified Knowledge Manager (CKM) in 2001.

It became the core product of the International Knowledge Management Institute, which is now the de facto leader in KM certification.

You started in KM over two decades ago, how has KM shifted since you started? And, is there any misconception you commonly see regarding KM?

When I started in KM in the mid-1990s and long after, KM was all about KM Systems. For many that is still true. In the late 1990s, KM was primarily about repositories and expert locators, which are still dominant applications today. Little was known about other KM initiatives, such as best practices and lessons learned though such techniques had been publicized by Ford Motor and BP.

By 2000, other enterprise wide initiatives were gaining notoriety, such as Communities of Practice (CoPs). But many non-KM Systems applications were emerging as well, e.g., ‘Rethink Learning’, Customer Satisfaction, and especially Knowledge Transfer and Continuity. By the late 2000s, K Transfer was becoming critical to address the Baby Boomer retirement surge.

As to are there any misconceptions, yes! Everyone knows the trilogy “People, Process and Technology.” The KM Systems approach, driven by IT naturally focuses on ‘technology’. The KM Transformational approach, of necessity, focuses on people. So, there is a major divide in KM today. Many still believe or at least act as if KM is all about technology, aka KM Systems. Some believe KM is about an episodic change in human occupations, which requires a shift from traditional change management to a focus on transformational change management.

I believe we will always have better and faster computers, but they are becoming mere commodities in terms of capability, price and especially ubiquitousness. The primary discriminator for the future will come from substantive increases in personal human potential and performance, which we call personal knowledge management..

Douglas Weidner

Let me quickly explain. The world has gone through many episodic changes, but if you think about careers (aka human occupations), there have been five. Humans have progressed from ‘Hunter-Gatherers’ to the ‘Agrarian, Industrial and Information’ Ages.

For millennia, until the Info Age, most all human occupations were labor intensive. As computers emerged, they enabled information management which further enabled its ultimate end-game – the Knowledge Age, and hence ‘Knowledge Management’.

We still grow food, but farms are run by machines, even combines guided by GPS. We still make and move stuff, but increasingly that is being done by robots, drones and artificial intelligence. In the Knowledge Age, human brainpower will dominate, not muscle power.

What are other implications? Here’s one. If KM is just a KM System, traditional change management is applicable – communicate the new system and train folks as to how to use it, preferably before it is installed.

If KM is much more than just a system, transformational change management is applicable. Transformational change management is much more complex than traditional, including ‘Call-to-Action’, quick wins, and much more emphasis on employee comprehension and involvement, and top management’s transformational leadership. But, ultimately, KM’s success will be about a major change in human occupations and motivations, which I call Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)™.

What is Personal Knowledge Management?
In a nutshell, PKM is about both aptitude and attitude. We have always focused on human aptitude, ability to do the task, whether hunting, farming, or on the assembly line.

In the Knowledge Age, we must focus as well on human attitudes, the love of your career and the motivation to do an outstanding job. That is why when answering about my career choice I talked about aligning your own traits with what you do and the resultant passion and high performance you will have.

Most everyone loves new and innovative technologies, but few want to take the time and effort to develop and instill best practices, which is much more difficult than just buying the latest technology.

You teach people in multiple industries and countries. Is there any example of any company or industry that does KM right?

Please understand, I have a high bar for ‘doing KM right’ and there are a number of viewpoints.

First and foremost, since KM is still an emerging discipline, I applaud organizations that started early and achieved some notable financial results. Not many organizations publish their results, though Shell Oil published their 2002 financial results using their own in-house CoP software, when CoPs were in their very formative stages.

I especially applaud those who invented new initiative types. Ford did best practices in early 1990s, BP did Lessons Learned in late 1990s, Lockheed Martin did Knowledge Transfer & Continuity in mid 2000s.

There are many people and their organizations around the world that are doing KM. We’ve had about 10,000 CKM students since 2001, from at least 25 different countries. Of course, the US and Europe were early birds to KM based on their more mature economies, but we saw early interest in many geographical pockets, such as Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Malaysia. The Middle-East is rapidly increasing its interest in KM, often due to central government guidance, if not mandates.

I’d like to report someday soon that many organizations have begun to transition from a traditional KM Systems approach to transformational KM approach; to actually focus on using KM to optimize their personal and organizational performance in the Knowledge Age.

I believe we will always have better and faster computers, but they are becoming mere commodities in terms of capability, price and especially ubiquitousness. The primary discriminator for the future will come from substantive increases in personal human potential and performance, which we call personal knowledge management

What are some tendencies of KM you see coming in the next few years?
Most everyone loves new and innovative technologies, but few want to take the time and effort to develop and instill best practices, which is much more difficult than just buying the latest technology.

For instance, in Learning, which should be of keen interest to KMers because the goal of KM is often claimed to be: ‘Create a Learning Organization’, there are many underutilized technologies. By underutilized I mean, not that the technology doesn’t work, but that humans don’t have proven ways to best use the technology, or worse – aren’t motivated to even use it.

Consider virtual training. The technology capability is obvious, a real-time (synchronous) class, but where everyone is virtual rather than face-to-face. But, the real benefit of virtual learning is not the savings of travel time and expense but the much increased interaction and learning among students. So, to gain the ultimate benefits of virtual technology, it is less about the technology than about optimizing other aspects of the learning process.

Consider K Bases, one of my favorite technologies. From a training perspective, the future should be less about learning processes and methods that could be well-documented in a K Base, and more about learning how and why you should use the K Base, which will teach you what you need to know, when you need to know it. Such an approach could be called ‘Performance Support’.

Consider Mobile Learning. We all have cell phones, but do we have established best practices about how to integrate them into online collaboration and learning?

What three resources (podcasts, books, websites) you recommend which have helped you in your career?

There are certainly exceptions, but I have found my robust formal education was extremely important to my career success. In high school, I loved business, and have an MBA – Business Economics and an MS – Operations Research. So, when I say robust I mean really robust. Getting such an education may be out of the question for some already buried in their careers and committed to their families, but it certainly helped my career.

My next most important resource, which is possible for all regardless of past education, has been books, hundreds and hundreds of books. But that has been over many decades and many disciplines. Note, books don’t have to be new, they can even be used if not too marked up, especially since I like to highlight key insights for future reference.

I love websites, especially informational ones. For many knowledge needs a Google search can provide the answer, especially if your background body of knowledge is robust enough to comprehend and evaluate the content. A typical website feature is podcasts: any multimedia presentation whether a talking head or an animation with voice-over, etc. I love podcasts (think Ted Talks) but have two concerns. I have found that I’m unlikely to be able to commit to a long scheduled broadcast, so being able to replay a prior broadcast is key.

Given my two expressed biases (Granular K Bases and need for transformation to create Personal K Managers in the K Age), I look forward to the future where various knowledge domains will be richly defined and categorized, with both K Nuggets as the leaf nodes, but also the ability to collaborate with others at that level of granularity. As mentioned, mobile technology, and associated K Base, is no longer just for random conversations, but for structured (threaded) conversations around an entire curriculum of brief K Nuggets. That brings me full circle back to K Nuggets, where I started in KM – getting the best Knowledge to the right person at the right time.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

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