Creating a Roadmap for Management: Nick Milton

By: Yadira Y. Caro

If you are looking to know more about the field of Knowledge Management, you may often hear the name of Nick Milton. His book The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook (co-authored with Patrick Lambe), is a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to launch an initiative or lead a program to help their organization make use of their collective knowledge for competitive advantage. He also has been blogging about KM, almost daily, since 2009.

As opposed to many others in this field, his background is not in IT. Milton is a geologist, who completed his Masters on Natural Sciences and then his PhD in Geology. Almost two decades ago, Nick and various colleagues from multinational gas company BP, launched Knoco Ltd, a management and training company focused on KM, where he is now Director and Vice President.

In this interview, Nick shared the story about this transition, discusses some of the misconceptions about KM and gives valuable resources for people in any industry.

Why did you choose Knowledge Management as a career?
I made the change to KM while working at BP. Previously I had been a geologist (which is quite a knowledge-based subject) but moved to a role in BP Norway which was called “Quality Manager;” supporting the quality of geological work. It became obvious that the quality of work was directly impacted by access to knowledge, and we build a local KM framework which was one of the first of its kind. Then when the BP central KM team was created in the late 1990s I was invited to join, which is when I formally left Geology behind as a career and moved full time into KM; initially with BP but for the last 20 years as an independent consultant. My KM career has now lasted longer than my geology career did.

There are many definitions of KM. What is your definition of KM?
My favorite definition, which is also the definition in the ISO KM standard (ISO 30401) is that KM is Management with a focus on knowledge. So its not “the management of knowledge” but “knowledge-focused management”. This at first reading seems almost a tautology, but it is really quite profound. KM is how you would manage, if you wanted to deliver the value inherent in knowledge. Then of course you have to define “knowledge”, which is where I (and the ISO standard) follow Peter Senge in saying that Knowledge is the ability to make correct decisions and take effective actions.

KM is Management with a focus on knowledge. So its not “the management of knowledge” but “knowledge-focused management”.

Nick Milton

Is there any misconception you commonly see regarding KM?
There are oh so many of these! For example: KM is a subset of Information Management; KM is information management (or content management) rebadged; KM can be solved by buying software; KM is an end in itself; KM means documenting all your knowledge; build a good KM system, and people will magically populate it. The first 2 are very common, and many times the first discussion I have with a potential client is whether they want KM at all, or whether they will be better served by improved IM or data management. The third has plagued the industry from the start – the idea that software will solve all your KM problems. Software is part of the solution, but software alone is nowhere near enough.

What significant evolution have you seen in the industry in the past decade?
In some ways the industry has not evolved at all. If you look at some of the lists of “greatest KM pitfalls” written 20 years ago, all of those pitfalls still affect KM today. However there are certainly some developments: the creation of an entire discipline for Knowledge Centered Support (KCS). This is a KM approach applied to customer support knowledge bases, which is very powerful and robust.

An increased understanding of, and set of models for, Lesson Management. These address what happens to Lessons after they have been identified, and before they become Lessons Learned. This work is best developed in the emergency services and military.

A plethora of software tools which we did not have 20 years ago. In-house wikis for example. Unfortunately the KM software space is dominated by SharePoint, which is an IM tool rather than a KM tool. At last, an international standard for KM, which should help avoid many of the misconceptions listed above.

You write multiple articles on KM. How do you select the topics for your blog?
I have been blogging for over 10 years now, with a new blog post each weekday, so have written over 2500 posts at www.nickmilton.com. I get inspiration in many ways: from articles I read online and in the press. I have a daily Google Alert for the term “knowledge management” and this often brings me new ideas. Also from questions people (and clients) ask me. When I present a training course, I often fill a whole page of blog post ideas just from the questions I get asked.

I often up cycle previous blog posts, but only if they are at least 5 years old and therefore in need of modernizing. If I get really stuck I open a random PowerPoint, choose a random slide, and write a blog post about that slide

What are key skills or training a person in the KM field should have?
The core skills are people skills. KM is “all about people,” and KMers need to be People people first and foremost. If I were given a KM team, I would train all of them in facilitation skills, and change management skills. The team would than need other skillsets within it: someone with IT skills, someone with IM or library skills, someone with communication skills, and then a whole bunch of people skilled in the business of the organization (lawyers in a law firm, engineers in a construction firm, geologists in an oil company). You don’t need everyone to have all these skills, but you need someone in the team to cover each skillset.

Based on your experience with multiple customers, is there an industry that really “gets” KM?
The ones that “get” KM are the ones which cannot afford to fail – where failure is serious, costly, or endangers life – and therefore where the value of learning and of knowledge is obvious. Therefore you see KM very well developed in the military (as you know from your own experience, Yadira), the emergency services, aviation, Oil and Gas, and (to a lesser extent) construction.

Then there are the big consulting firms, whose only product is knowledge, and who compete on knowledge. Companies such as McKinsey are leading the way with KM. There are probably more KM roles in legal firms than there are in other industries, but legal KM is an unusual variant which has more in common with content management than other variants do. And the development sector also has embraced KM, partly because knowledge has higher relative value in a cash-poor industry.

You’ve mentioned new technology (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) will not eliminate KM. Do you see any major changes in the field?
AI will not eliminate KM but it may eliminate some drudgery for knowledge workers. I think better search will always help – semantic search, natural language search, intelligent search. Also AI will help in uncovering patterns and insights from huge databases, which intelligent people can then turn into knowledge. These will be the power tools for the knowledge worker, helping them to work faster and smarter. But no matter what the toolset may be, its only 1/4 of the solution. We also need the roles and accountabilities, the KM processes, and the KM governance suite if our KM frameworks are to be complete.

AI will not eliminate KM but it may eliminate some drudgery for knowledge workers.

Is there a particular project in your career you are most proud of? Why?
I loved the work we did with Mars in the early 2000s. It was simple stuff, but it made an impressive impact to the business. Also some of the work we did with De Beers at the same time. I really enjoyed working with Nancy Dixon at Huawei, in China. This was a chance to try western style KM and adapt it to Chinese business, and again it succeeded beyond expectations. Also I am really enjoying the work I am doing now with the European Space Agency. Again just good standard KM, but in such an exciting setting.

What three resources (podcasts, books, websites) you recommend which have helped you in your career?
I will go for books: Davenport and Prusak Working Knowledge, Nancy Dixon Common Knowledge, Hansen Collaboration, Wenger and Synder Cultivating Communities of Practice. Also if I can include my own book, written with Patrick Lambe, The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook. Nothing helps you understand a field more than writing a book about it. You don’t realize what you know, until you try to put it into print!

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

Contact me!

Advocate for Military Spouses: Jamie Muskopf

The day of my interview with Jamie Muskopf from her home in Washington state, she received a called from school saying her kids would have no class that day. Even with that unplanned event, she still went through her day as usual managing her responsibilities as a Project Manager for Microsoft’s Military Spouse Technology Academy, recording an episode of her podcast S.O. Unbecoming, and this interview. Jamie is also completing her Doctor of Social Work studies at the University of Southern California while taking care of her three children and her active duty Navy spouse.

This was another typical day for a military spouse. While significant others perform their jobs at home or abroad, these military spouses must manage their households and in many cases, their careers as well. Jamie has made her mission to advocate for them.

Before marriage, Jamie had started her started thriving career in technology as a developer in college, a job she learned “accidentally” when her supervisors at her summer job at the University of California Santa Barbara asked her to create a website. A few years later, back at home in Hawaii, she became a Director of Web Services at Pacific University and completed a Masters in Information Systems. Later she joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet to develop their Knowledge Management program. At her job she met her future husband. She continued working until the demanding schedule at work and at home forced a career break. In the meantime, she completed her Masters in Knowledge Strategy from Columbia University with the goal of one day returning to the workforce, which happened last year.

During our conversation we talked about her career in tech and Knowledge Management, her mission to use what she has learned for social good, and her weekly podcast S.O. Unbecoming, where she interviews military spouses who are “unbecoming one version of themselves in favor of another.”

What made you realize that knowledge management was important?

As you know, the military is full of different tools and they’re all there for interesting reasons. But there’s always this assumption that “if I use this tool everything in the world will be better.” And really you need more of an understanding that the information you work with and create are part of a larger eco-system. Where I was working at HQ at Pacific Fleet, it was definitely always tied into decision making.

I learned to be very empathetic ultimately to the Commander because there are all these people generating a lot of information (for him). I happened to have a commander that said “pump the brakes, you are giving me all this stuff, tell me why it matters. You can’t just give me a bunch of raw data. I need you to collaborate, and I need you to create something that is just a higher level than what you’re giving me right now. It’s good information, but it’d be richer knowledge if you put it all together first.” I listened very intently to what he wanted. He eventually took high notice of that and he became a really big supporter of knowledge management because he just got it. He understood what we were trying to accomplish. 

When did you take a break in your career?
My husband was my boss’ flag aid. I had no intention whatsoever (to go out with him) but he kept bugging me (laughs). A year later, I was like fine (laughs). We got married and then a month and a half after he went to Connecticut for school. I was pregnant at the time, so I ended up staying in Hawaii. I worked after getting married for the next two years. Then I had two babies who are 18 months apart. Once I had my daughter, he was on a sea tour.

My career and his career were way too competing because at that point I was traveling once or twice a month. We had built a knowledge management program to be pretty wide and all across the fleet, and I was doing a lot of speaking engagements. But it was just not sustainable, so I left. It definitely had a huge impact on my life. It definitely taught me how much my identity centered around my career. I felt kind of lost for a little while.

I loved being a stay at home mom. It was something I dreamed about because I was a single mom for a while and then I was working. I loved my job, but I also hated the fact that I was gone from my son, even though my mom and dad were in Hawaii, so I didn’t have to worry about that so much. But it was tough making the switch from being very career driven to being mommy.

What were your assumptions about military mothers before?
I just had this assumption that it would be easy. I really felt “what could be so hard about having someone else pay your bills and staying home with your kids?” Overtime I learned, on the other side, there are people thinking the same thing about you “they have it so easy, they work, they have their own money, not have to worry about all of these things.

What prompted you to switch to social work?
Because that is knowledge management. People don’t understand that really, at the core of knowledge management, is people and behavior and a culture. If you don’t have a culture that supports good knowledge management, that supports the idea that people need to collaborate and share, we don’t have good knowledge management, that is impossible. You might have semi decent information management but you don’t have knowledge management. If we’re going to really do knowledge management in the world, something more has to be done about how we address behavior. That is not psychology, it’s not necessarily education, it’s a little bit of all those things, but what is it?

When I was still at Columbia University, a friend of mine who’s a social worker was always telling me “you should be a social worker.” (I thought) I would cry every day; I get too emotional over things (laughs). But she said “Look at the Doctor of Social Work program.” So I did and I realized that the program is an innovation program. It almost should be like a Doctor of Social Innovation because what we’re learning right now is what is social innovation, what does that mean, and ultimately, how do you address or how do you identify social norms. The program is bringing me a completely different set of research and lenses. I love that because of what I care about now, which is advocating for the military spouse community. There’s a lot of crazy social norms involved in that, that keep us from working.

How would you describe what you’re doing now at work?

I’m the Project Manager for Microsoft Military Spouse Technology Academy. Right now I’ve been working in the Pilot Program Classroom. It’s been interesting watching this whole process unfold; seeing from both a participant side and being empathetic to it because I am a military spouse. Then seeing from an employer side: what social norms are in place there, what culture, what things are operating in the norm, and the norm being that military spouses unemployment rate is 54%. That norm is very much on purpose. It’s part of a culture around military spouses that has been there since the beginning of the military; your number one job is to support your spouse.

The military spouses now, they want to work, they are working and if the military wants to retain active duty people, they’re going to have to really figure out how do we support working military spouses.

Changes have to happen inside the culture that is the Department of Defense, changes have to happen inside the culture of military spouses. Then there’s also changes that need to happen inside employers and potentially inside the law when it comes to employers creating more innovative ways other than just saying “why don’t we just make all jobs remote.” That is part of an answer, but its not the whole answer. I might suddenly had to pack up-house, I might suddenly have to prepare my household for an unexpected deployment and I need my employer to be flexible about those things.


If I need to move, I would like my employer to be flexible, either allowing me to continue remotely or maybe helping me find another position in our company. Maybe connecting me with a partner in the location that I’m at. Employers need to be incentivized to do such things by the local state governments and potentially, the federal government.

I feel like being in the DSW program is going to give me that lens and that science background to really look at that whole problem or the series of problems, and come up with a model or multiple models that can provide solutions.

The military spouses now, they want to work, they are working and if the military wants to retain active duty people, they’re going to have to really figure out how do we support working military spouses.

Why did you start a podcast on the topic of working military spouses?
My whole point in that podcast is do three things: one is to give to military spouses who are going through the process of getting back into their careers or maintaining their careers, the opportunity to share their stories. I want military spouses of diverse backgrounds; I want to see the diversity in the military spouse community that I see day-to-day, represented in some platform.

Number two is I want to give other military spouses the opportunity to hear those stories, and be inspired by them, or at least, have community with them. As the show goes on, not all the stories are going be great, some of the stories are really heart-breaking and are really frustrating. I know that there are stories that other military spouses will connect with because they’ve had a hard time getting back into the workplace or continue their education.

The third piece of it is definitely to educate civilians, educate employers on what these people are going through, and how are other employers innovating or how are they operating in a way that is supporting military spouse careers. I’ve been very surprised and not surprised at how little people really understand about the military spouse experience, and the kinds of stereotypes and biases that people have about military spouses. It’s been very eye opening.

What are three resources or pieces of advice that have helped you in your career?
My number one thing is to always be growing and tending your network. The way that I have done that over the years has been LinkedIn. Now it is more widely used and it’s a great way to build your professional network. I got recruited for the job with Microsoft over LinkedIn.

The second piece of advice is to always be in learning mode and to have a growth mindset. Even when I was home with babies and sitting there wondering if I’m ever going to get more sleep, I took every opportunity I had to keep up with what was going on, to learn, to read. I listened to the Tony Robbins podcast, Gary Vaynerchuk, Side Hustle School. I love listening to Malcolm Gladwell, Hidden Brain. There are just so many podcasts out there, you can put it on even with your baby on (laughs).

The third thing is just be kind to yourself. It is a hard lesson that I had to learn. I never really give myself grace to be like “it’s okay, you don’t have to be going and going and going all the time, you’ve done that for a long time.” Being kind to myself also has meant changing the perspective of failures to opportunity. I think once you start recognizing that you may fail at things or things that you do may fail, it is just about getting an opportunity to learn something and then try something differently again. That to me is being really kind to yourself.

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

Sharing Knowledge about Knowledge: Stan Garfield

If you need to know anything about Knowledge Management, Stan Garfield has probably already written about it. This prolific author and speaker has over 400 posts and various books on the topic showing not just his ideas, but also those of multiple people who are dedicated to this discipline.

Stan’s education is in Computer Science, but technology is not his only focus. As a true Knowledge Manager, he built relationships and communities to ensure information and ideas of an organization are captured and shared. In this interview you will learn about all the facets of KM and about his career. His experience includes leading KM programs and communities in professional services at HP and Deloitte.

What is your definition of Knowledge Management?

Knowledge management is the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organization’s clients and its people. The purpose of knowledge management is to foster the reuse of intellectual capital, enable better decision making, and create the conditions for innovation.

KM provides people, processes, and technology to help knowledge flow to the right people, at the right time, so they can act more efficiently, effectively, and creatively. Knowledge management enables Sharing, Innovating, Reusing, Collaborating, and Learning.

What are some misconceptions of KM you see regularly?

  1. KM programs should try to implement every KM process and tool
  2. KM programs should start with technology and then roll out tools and drive adoption
  3. KM programs should focus on collecting documents or updating skills profiles
  4. It’s not necessary to meet in person and you can ignore the need to build trust
  5. KM teams can be moved around from one organization to another
  6. KM programs should rely on maturity models and benchmarking
  7. There are “best practices
  8. KM programs should collect and report on all possible metrics
  9. It’s good to get certified in KM
  10. You can delegate KM to others
  11. You can push content
  12. KM is dead and KM needs a new name
  13. You can make people do things and incentives don’t work
  14. Social is frivolous
  15. Creation of communities and ESN groups should not be controlled
  16. Risks can be eliminated
  17. It’s possible to be like Google and Amazon
  18. KM people should try to work themselves out of a job
  19. Bigger is better for organizations, and smaller is better for community membership
  20. Everything is a community
  21. Our IP will be stolen if we don’t lock it down tightly
  22. The DIKW pyramid is useful
  23. The 90-9-1 rule for community participation is obsolete
  24. It’s possible to compute the ROI of KM
  25. Content should be archived after 90 days

(For more see this and this)

What drew you to this field and to become a KM author?

I have always been interested in communication and in sharing information. In elementary school, I published a one-page newsletter. In high school, I operated a radio station. In college, I started out in the journalism school at Northwestern, but I got hooked on computer programming and transferred to the engineering school at Washington University.

I joined Digital Equipment Corporation in 1983, and they already had VAXnotes Conferences, which were early examples of online communities. As a professional services manager, I compiled information useful to my team members that included key contacts and pointers to reference material. The Key Contacts List became one of the most popular documents at Digital.

I edited and published a monthly newsletter called Systems Integration Notes. It was distributed via email, but I wanted to find a way to make it available on demand. Initially I used VAX VMS network transfers for this, and then Digital ALL-IN-1 shared file cabinets. When Digital launched its first intranet in 1995, I knew that this was a much better way to share information, and immediately embraced it. I became the editor of Digital’s Professional Services intranet site.

In 1996 I was asked to start Digital’s first knowledge management program. My background in journalism, computer programming, and information sharing made me a good candidate for this role, and I embraced it enthusiastically. I have been a knowledge manager ever since.

KMWorld 2017 Keynote

In 2004 I took over HP’s KM program. I attended a one-day APQC Proven Practice Replication workshop hosted by Ford. I was impressed by the work of Stan Kwiecien and his Ford KM colleagues, and invited them to present on an HP KM Community call. They did so, and then Stan asked me to present HP’s KM efforts to Ford. I didn’t think that what we were doing at HP was that impressive, but I reciprocated. I was surprised by Ford’s reaction to my talk – they were much more positive about our accomplishments than people at HP were. This inspired me to present and write about our knowledge management efforts, including my first conference presentations at APQC in 2005 and KMWorld in 2006. I submitted an article to Line56.com, and they asked me to write a weekly blog, which I did. When Line56 folded, I moved it to hp.com. When I left HP in 2008, I switched to tweeting. In 2014 I began writing weekly articles on LinkedIn.

I have also been writing articles for periodicals since 2006. One of these, Inside Knowledge, was published by The Ark Group, and they asked me to write a book in 2006, which was published in 2007 as Implementing a Successful KM Program. In 2016, Lucidea (a software company) asked me to write another book, Proven Practices for Promoting a KM Program, which came out in 2017. I have also been asked to contribute chapters to four other books, and I always agree to do so.

In Profiles in Knowledge you share stories of people who have contributed to the field and are no longer with us. What inspired you to do that?

I have written over 400 blog posts, so I have covered most of my original ideas. I wanted to shift my focus to share the great work that others have done. I noticed that for those who have passed away, or left the field of knowledge management, their writing is not always available online. By retrieving it from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I was able to bring back their lost content for the benefit of everyone in the field. And by celebrating the work of those who are no longer with us, I am able to remind others of those great ideas and accomplishments. When I do so, their surviving friends, family, and colleagues have expressed their appreciation to me, which is very gratifying.

How has the KM field evolved in the past 10 or 15 years?

The fundamental principles have not changed much over the past 25 years. Some of the approaches and components have evolved. In the initial phase of KM (approximately 1995-2005), the main efforts were related to collection:

  1. capture
  2. lessons learned
  3. proven practices
  4. content management
  5. classification
  6. intranet
  7. portals
  8. repositories
  9. expertise locators
  10. search engines

In the next ten years (2005-2015), Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 developed, and the emphasis shifted to connection:

  1. communities
  2. threaded discussions
  3. tagging
  4. blogs
  5. wikis
  6. podcasts
  7. videos
  8. syndication
  9. aggregation
  10. social software

Since about 2015, new trends have emerged:

  1. There is currently a lot of buzz around the ideas of digital workplace and digital transformation.
  2. Working Out Loud is a growing movement that encourages employees to narrate their work and broadcast what they’re doing so others can interact.
  3. Community management is emerging as a formal discipline where community managers are formally trained, developed, and assigned to full-time roles.
  4. Cognitive computing and artificial intelligence are being used to automate certain KM tasks and augment knowledge-related decision making.
  5. There is increased attention on analytics and business intelligence, which help KM use data to derive insights and inform actions and decisions.
  6. More organizations are adopting enterprise social networks, especially Microsoft and Workplace by Facebook, as a better user interface for online threaded discussions.
  7. Chat tools such as Slack, which are used predominately for team interaction, are gaining in popularity as well.
  8. Gamification and digital badging are new ways of framing incentives to recognize people for performing the knowledge-sharing and collaborative behaviors.
  9. Agile methodology originated in software development but is now being applied more broadly across the enterprise.
  10. Mobile apps and the bring your own device (BYOD) trend are reactions to more and more people using smart phones and tablets for work. KM must ensure that knowledge systems are optimized for mobile.

“Knowledge management is the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organization’s clients and its people.”

Can you share a major challenge you tackled in your career (with a customer, or personally) and how did you address it?

When I led the HP KM program, there were frequent changes in the top leadership of the HP Consulting & Integration business that I supported. Each time a new senior vice president was named, I had to start over to educate them about KM, the KM program, and what I wanted them to do in support of it.

One new senior VP convened an advisory council of field consultants, and they were very critical of the KM program. I found myself on a conference call with the senior VP and the council members, and it was very difficult. They complained about several things, including the user interface, which they thought was too complicated.

Despite that fact that we offered multiple ways to interact with the KM system, including a standard intranet menu, an engagement knowledge map, and an A-Z index, they wanted a simpler option. Instead of being defensive, we set about to create a simple user interface, and worked with the harshest critic among the council members to design it. When that user was satisfied, and when we had made similar improvements to respond to the other complaints, we reconvened the senior VP and the council, and reviewed all of the changes. The council members embraced what we presented, and we turned around a dire situation.

The moral of this and other incidents we experienced: listen to your constituents, try to just say yes, and continuously improve in response to constructive feedback.

What key piece of advice would you give to an individual who wants to perform KM work or launch a KM program in their organization?

Start out by building expertise in knowledge management.To perform KM work:

  1. Set three simple goals and stick with them for the long term. Communicate them regularly. Incorporate the goals and metrics into as many parts of the organization as possible.
  2. Keep the people, process, and technology components of the KM program in balance. Don’t allow one element (e.g., technology) to dominate the other two.
  3. Lead by example. Model the collaboration and knowledge sharing behaviors you want the organization to adopt in how you run the KM program.

To launch a knowledge management program:

  1. Create a Top 3 Objectives List of challenges and opportunities which your KM program will address. These objectives align business direction with program goals.
  2. Provide 9 Answers to questions about people, process, and technology. This information defines who will participate, which processes will be required, and how tools will support the people and processes.
  3. Define the KM Strategy. These are specific actions which will be taken to implement the program.
  4. Gain the sponsorship of your senior executive through The 10 Commitments. These commitments from the leader of your organization will enable the KM strategy to be implemented.
  5. Create and execute the Implementation Plan. This plan spells out the details of implementing the initiative.

You regularly share recommended resources. What 2 or 3 key resources (books, podcasts, etc.), would you recommend to anyone who wants to know more about KM?

Here are six:

  1. Blog: Knoco Stories by Nick Milton
  2. Book: Working Knowledge by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak
  3. Community: SIKM Leaders Community
  4. Conference: KMWorld
  5. Periodical: K Street Directions by Chris Riemer
  6. Site: Gurteen Knowledge Website by David Gurteen

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