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, and they asked me to write a weekly blog, which I did. When Line56 folded, I moved it to 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! 

Managing knowledge in the military: Interview with John Fay

By: Yadira Y. Caro

When I was considering a job in Europe as a knowledge management consultant in the Department of Defense (DoD), I called a senior colleague who has worked closely with the organization I would be working for, the knowledge management team at the European Command (EUCOM). “They have one of the most solid programs of KM in the DoD,” he said. The reason for this, he added, was John Fay. At the time, Fay had been the leading the development of this program for over ten years.

In case you are wondering, Knowledge Management (KM) is a concept developed in the early 90s. It usually refers to the improvement of how an organization manages its information: think all the info produced and shared on a daily basis via meetings, emails, presentations, etc. KM does this primarily through the creation of technical tools and systems; but it also addresses improving process efficiency and focus on creating a company culture of sharing and collaborating.  Knowledge Management is used in the commercial world, and in the DoD, it has been used to address the amount of information the staff provides its leaders to make decisions and deal with the high turnover rate: a person can spend from one to three years in a place before they have to be reassigned.

Fay has been advocating and practicing this discipline for over 15 years. He is now heading for a couple of years to the National War College as he has been selected with other senior leaders for a program on Strategic Studies. Before he left Germany, where EUCOM is based, we talked about his career in KM.

Why did you choose military service?

I think I am a patriotic kind of person who appreciates what our country has blessed me with so I wanted to give something back. It was also a means to an end: I was lost as a high school student and I needed to find direction professionally. It was a way for me to live out some of my aspirations and buy some time, so I joined the Navy.

FAY-DA Photo 2

 How would you describe what you have been doing in the past ten years?

After I came back from the Navy and was a contractor, I spent time in a number of different knowledge management fields. I was doing something that was KM like in the military, so I looked for something like that. I found a real affinity in helping make an organization better, to build stronger teams to enable them to perform better. I did this for the Air Force, then I did it for a joint agency, then I moved on to the Marines.

In all of those different jobs they all had a common thread of just trying to make on an organization better, to improve their performance, and empower them to accomplish the mission.  I find that very compelling. It’s great thrill to see an organization go from hurting or dysfunctional to healthy and functional.

I have been able to see a lot of that occur here at EUCOM: I came on board when knowledge management was just an idea. That is what I have been doing for 14 years — to implement the objectives, the principles of knowledge management, and infuse them into the DNA of EUCOM.  To make it a knowledge-enabled organization.

What makes a successful KM program?

What I tell people when asked this question is that it is two-fold. First, you must make yourself relevant, your Knowledge Management program has to be relevant. I think this is key in any new area if you are investing in something new, if it’s not satisfying the requirements of the organization you are serving, then it won’t be deemed valuable. We were intimately plugged into exercises and operations at the time and we had high-level DoD leadership backing.

What we omitted doing was establishing or institutionalizing the practice of KM. We did not develop any kind of KM doctrine or policy for EUCOM until many years later. Our program, while relevant and offering resources, grew quickly and to a large size. The KM branch was about 30-35 people at its peak. But we did not have a direction, we could not say this what we are here to do.  The direction of the organization was personality-driven. As a result we did not get done what we wanted and the things that we did get done were abandoned when other people who were the personality-drivers left. Therefore, the second thing you need to do is to work on the policy to establish the culture that accepts the new initiatives.

How would describe what is KM to people outside DoD?

I think the definition we adopted is perfect. It is a small part of the Army’s definition, so we don’t claim that we created it. It is “to enable the flow of knowledge to enhance shared understanding, learning, and decision making (or performance).” What I like about that is that if you get right at the movement of information and that learning enables action. You cannot take effective action without learning. Once you become aware, you learn; after learning then you can take action.

If anybody wanted to practice km in the DoD, what do you recommend they should do. What skills they should learn?

If you are in a different field and you see an opportunity to improve things, you can be a knowledge manager. In fact, aren’t we all knowledge workers? We need some kind of knowledge to perform our jobs.

That is a very entrepreneurial kind of thing, if you are willing to take a step and try it out, you can implement a KM initiative very easily in any organization. It does not require a great deal of expertise. I am exhibit A (laughs). We are out of the box thinkers. It does not need to be your chosen profession.

There are of course some things you can study, but I would say, in most cases, those that are hiring KM practitioners of any kind are looking for people who can solve a problem. So if you are open minded and creative, whether or not you have the certifications, which always help, I think you can contribute to a KM organization.

Is there any failure you had which tuned into something positive later on?

We wanted to automate the production of the morning update brief because the Joint Operations Center staff was investing thousands of hours over the course of the year to produce it. A lot of the content can be derived automatically, not everything, but a substantial percentage. Why spend so much time producing it when we can have machines gather it and put it up on a screen?

So we thought there was a great opportunity for time saving and furthermore, we wanted to help people stop spending so much time on the presentation, on the medium in which they present. We instituted a technical solution to implement it, and we thought we had the right endorsement: from the joint operations center team chief all the way up to the deputy commander (3 star level) — we had support. But in the end, it failed. It was not accepted because of the people that were below our sponsors.

We had endeavored to effect too much change too fast and not appreciate the risk: the risk to those people who were going to be the conveyors of the information.

When the Battle Watch Captain, who was not one of our sponsors, stands in front of the Deputy Commander, and essentially recites the script, he and his team are responsible for that information. If they do not control that information, they are not comfortable with that, so there was a visceral resistance to an automatically generated brief. Because we did not appreciate the risk, there was reluctance and stalling and eventually they convinced our sponsors that the risk was reasonable and our solution failed.

What we learned from that is that we must understand all the dynamics of the problem set when you try to address it. If you do not tackle such a problem with complete partnerships with the parties involved there is no reason to expect you will succeed.

What books, websites or resources do you recommend?

One reads to be challenged or stretched. When I want to develop my KM skills, I read relevant works like Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice(Dalkir) and Unlocking Knowledge Assets(Conway). Unfortunately there are few very practical guides to KM, so I turn to what I can find from leading practitioners like David Snowden or one of my communities of interest/practice like the Joint KM forum in MilBook.  My current reading falls into three areas:  personal development, leadership development, and academic.  The currently open and recently closed books on my “nightstand” are the Bible, Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubner), What Got You Here Won’t Get You There(Goldsmith), Brief(McCormack), and a pile of national strategy documents and articles for a class I’m finishing.  I’m also reading aloud Eldest (Paolini) with my son just for fun.

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