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?

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 smiling
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? 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!

Women Empowerment Podcasts

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Podcast junkies like myself always seek recommendations of what to listen to next. That is the beauty of podcasts. The enormous variety allows you to pick based on you interests. Plus, you can listen to them at any time, especially on the move. As you may infer from this blog, I love to learn from other people’s journeys through interviews. Therefore, interview podcasts are my favorite.

Working in an environment dominated by men, I look for stories of professional and successful women to find inspiration. Unfortunately, most of my favorites go-to podcast lack women as guests. Therefore, podcasts with an emphasis on interviewing successful women are a great choice to find fascinating stories and valuable lessons.

Here are some I listen to:

No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis – Journalist Rebecca Jarvis’ podcast features company executives, entrepreneurs and celebrities turned entrepreneurs. Her questions are insightful to elicit guests to share their stories and many times, unconventional path to success. At the end of each show, she highlights a listener who has launched their business and gives them the opportunity to pitch their product to the audience.

Wall Street Journal Secrets of Wealthy Women – Want to know how millionaires became financially successful? In this podcast you learned about their journeys. Host Veronica Dagher interviews successful women in top level jobs sharing ventures and most importantly money secrets related to investing. It also helps women lose fear in investing and take control of their own finances.

Girlboss– Former Nastygal CEO Sophia Amoruso was the subject of many headlines after her company went bankrupt. Instead of letting that experience shadow her efforts, she launched Girlboss Media. This is a business and lifestyle company producing content geared to millennial women. In her podcast, she attempts to redefine the definition of success as climbing a corporate ladder, and she interviews women in media, business, arts and many other industries. They share their stories and provide advice. Even if you are not a millennial (or a woman), there is great advice for entrepreneurs in every interview.

Latina to Latina– I started listening to this per recommendation from interviewee Univision’s Selymar Colon. In this podcast, journalist Alicia Menendez talks to many successful Latin women around the world about their challenges as minorities making it to the top. Anyone regardless of ethnicity and gender can take away valuable advice.

Have any other recommendations? Let me know!

Leading Others to Lead: Mary Gillam

By: Yadira Y. Caro

The journey of Mary Gillam to become an Air Force Colonel and a leader was not exempt of multiple challenges. However, Mary, who also holds a PhD in Management of Information Systems Technology, enjoys sharing her story, challenges and lessons she has learned to help others become leaders as well.

Dr. Gillam was raised by her paternal grandmother alongside her brothers and sister. But her academic skills enable her to get a scholarship from Dow Chemical to study Chemistry. However, Mary was also interested in joining the Air Force. She would later join the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). After college, she was commissioned into the Air Force as a Second Lieutenant. Through tenacity and hard work, she forged a career of over 20 years where she rose through the ranks to become a Colonel, something only a small percentage of officers achieve. The percentage is even smaller for women and people of color.

After a career spent in the world of Telecommunications and Information Systems Technology, she shifted her focus to teaching leadership, management and organizational development. She became an Amazon bestsellingauthor, a host and producer of the TV show Leadership Table Talk, and even designed a board game on the topic. In this interview, she discussed her career journey, her challenges in the military, and gives advice on what it takes to become a leader.

As you described in your book Gifted to Lead you came from a household where you seem to have had a lot of challenges along the way. What made you join the military?

I love to share this story because I was raised by my paternal grandmother who married at age 14. She had 17 children, and then she was widowed at age 48. Afterwards, she was later given sole responsibility for my three siblings and myself.  It was my grandmother who taught me what it means to strive to be the best that you can be regardless of your circumstances.

Having graduated with honors from high school, I went off to college. I got a scholarship in Chemistry from Dow Chemical, and then I picked up a scholarship from the Air Force. But how I joined the Air Force is really interesting. One day, some ROTC students were out recruiting and invited me to speak to the professor of Aerospace Studies. Because I was already committed to going to work for Dow Chemical, I was facing a dilemma. The end result is that the professor of Aerospace Studies met with the Chairman of the Chemistry Department, and the Dow Chemical representative to discuss my situation. After the discussion, I was allowed to keep both scholarships and pursue my dream of joining the Air Force. I often say that Dow Chemical values military service.

How many years were you serving in the military?

Twenty eight and a half.

Can you describe some of the challenges that you’ve had throughout your career in the military?

I really hate to say this, but a lot had to do with my ethnicity and my gender and I wasn’t about to change either one of them (laughs). Sometimes you just have to really buckle down and say, ‘Okay, regardless of the challenge here, I’m going to work hard.’ Given my faith in God, and hard work, I was able to succeed.

And you made it through the rank of Colonel. Not a lot in the military get to that rank. How was that journey for you?

It was very interesting, I would say, because you’re right, not a lot of people make it to the rank of Colonel. Although you have General that comes after that number is even smaller. But when you make it to the rank of Colonel, especially as a female, you have done very, very well in the military. And so I just said ‘I’m going give it everything I’ve got, to become the best military leader.’ Because you have to have the right jobs, and be wiling to work hard. But, then you really have to have people willing to give you an opportunity. If you don’t get the opportunity, I don’t care how hard you’ve worked, you still have to have the opportunity to show what you can do. I really thank all the mentors along the way that I’ve had who encouraged me to just continue to work hard.

You’ve got to get past the fear element and really put yourself out there.

Dr. Mary Gillam

From those experiences, do you have any particular example that you remember of any deployment or leading a group of people that you consider successful?

As a military officer, I had the opportunity to deploy to many locations. As a telecommunications and information systems technology officer, I was responsible for ensuring that our forces had the capability to operate in a mobile environment as if they were at home. However, one of my greatest experiences was when I served as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of IT for a very large organization. I had the opportunity to build a team, deliver IT services, and create a win-win situation for all of the stakeholders. My goal was to deliver value to the organizations and customers that we served, and we were very successful.

Was your track primarily Information Technology? Why Information Technology?

When I was commissioned in the US Air Force, there was a shortage of communications-electronics officers. This career field was the equivalent of the telecommunications and information technology career field in the civilian sector. Although my undergraduate degree was in chemistry, I had the math and science necessary to serve in this career field. I would later earn a Masters Degree in Computers and Information Systems Management. Although the career field would undergo numerous name changes over the years, it was the equivalent of the information technology field today.

How long ago did you leave the military?

I retired in 2010.

How was that transition from the military career? Did you decide to continue with the IT field?

When I first retired from the Air Force, I continued working in the IT career field. I worked as a government contractor for a major consulting firm supporting the Air Force CIO. I later returned to the government as a Senior Executive serving as the Director of Technology, Innovation, and Engineering.

You have a lot of different publications in IT and also on the topic of leadership. What made you decide to focus on leadership?

As an officer, you were constantly receiving a lot of training in the leadership space. When I was a teenager and when I was in college, I led a lot of organizations. I guess you could say that leadership was in my DNA. It is a given for me to continue learning and studying in the areas of leadership, management, team-building, and organizational development. As a result, when I found myself wanting to transition from the IT field, I looked at potentially providing training, coaching, and consulting services in the leadership space. So I went to Georgetown and got a Masters in Executive Leadership, even though I had all kinds of leadership experience. I just wanted to ensure that I had the latest information on the topic. I’m very passionate about it.

I host a local cable TV show called Leadership Table Talk. I invented a game (The Leadership Build Zone) in the area of leadership development, so I’m finding myself really enjoying helping people to grow and develop their leadership skills and talents.

What do you think is one of the main factors that prevent people from exploring more of their leadership skills?

What I’ve found in my research, working with people for so many years, and leading organizations, unfortunately is fear. A lot of people are afraid of failure. I remember a young lady who I wanted her to lead a project for our organization and the first thing that she said was ‘Dr Gillam, I am just afraid that I might fail.’ And I said ‘well, you might succeed (laughs) How about looking at it from that respect, because I know you can do it and I’m not going take no for an answer.’ She ended up doing the project, and did an exceptional job. So I would tell people, you’ve got to get past the fear element and really put yourself out there. If there is a skill that you are lacking, then you can learn that skill set. But, don’t just refuse to lead because you are afraid. Who knows, you might just succeed (laughs).

Do you have three resources you recommend that have helped you either in your career or that help others in either the areas of leadership or in the areas of IT?

I would say The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by Dr. John Maxwell, in the leadership space, has always been a good staple for me. I use a lot of his materials. The book that I really like from an IT perspective is People Centric Security: Transforming Your Enterprise Security Culture. It’s an easy read but at the same time it really does address how we can help to change the dynamics of what’s going on in the cyber security space. It’s just a book that I use a lot as a reference guide today and I really enjoy.

A third one that I use in my executive coaching is Crucial Conversations. I love that book because it really does get people focused on how to conduct those crucial conversations. You may not want to have them, but you need to have them especially if you are a leader. You need to know how to talk to people, and in ways that will build your team and not destroy it.

You mentioned that you’ve had a lot of challenges in the military, primarily based on gender and race. What advice would you give to any woman particularly, who wants to start a military career or who is in her military career right now?

That is a great question. I would tell ladies that if they have an issue, there are a lot of resources available. Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out. I believe that the #metoo movement has brought to light a lot of things that have happened that should not have occurred. In the military, sometimes people will not speak up because they don’t want to be labeled as complaining. Yet, if people don’t speak up, things will not change
So, don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out because you have earned the right to serve in the military like anyone else.

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