I know we know that – What is a Knowledge Management System Pt II

A blog by Martin Erasmuson.

That information is in the organisation somewhere, but can you find it?

Do many organisations suffer from Organisational-Dyspraxia?  Dyspraxia typically refers to a developmental coordination disorder that disrupts brain messages, with many sufferers having difficulty organizing their time or remembering deadlines.  In particular, it affects their ‘Working-Memory’.  Working-Memory acts as a sort of clearing-house for the temporary holding, processing and manipulation of information before it ends up in our short-term or long-term memory.  Those different memory centres; Working, Short-Term and Long-Term, all function differently but in concert; at least in a ‘normal’ brain.  Many dyspraxias’ can have excellent Long-Term memory but poor Short-Term memory.  Frustratingly for many sufferers, they can recall having been told or taught something but cannot recall the actual information itself e.g. they remember being SHOWN how to use the TV remote; but cannot ‘recall’ the actual instructions themselves.

Does this sound like any organisation you know?  i.e. you know the information you need right now is in the organisation somewhere (on an email server, in someone’s personal database, in the CRM, in the EDRMS or on the network-drive); you just cannot find it.

It seems many organisations have the same problems around ‘Working-Memory’ as dyspraxias’ i.e. a dysfunctional or non-existent information clearing-house for identifying what needs to be saved and then interacting with other organisational-memory/record/data-management systems to hold that information in such a manner that it can be recalled on demand later.

Most organisations retain a 20th century organisational data/records system model that operates stand-alone, isolated systems (EDRMS, AMS, CMS, GIS, Knowledge Base, Financials etc.) with little interaction or integration or indeed any capability to do that. 

The question then, what does a 21st Century Knowledge Management System look like?  To answer that we need to understand the demands of operating in the 21st century.  In the opening paragraph, we discussed how the different memory functions; Working-Memory, Short-Term-Memory and Long-Term-Memory, in a ‘normal’ brain all work interactively.  A key function of Working-Memory is Sensory-Gating.  Sensory-Gating describes our brains ability to filter out irrelevant or unwanted ‘noise’ or stimuli coming from our five senses while focusing on what is applicable right now.  This is how we can be at a noisy social gathering but can focus on and follow a conversation with a single person while blocking out all the other conversations.  It is also why it’s so annoying when someone asks if you’ve noticed the sound of that machinery operating which; until they asked, you hadn’t.  Our Sensory-Gating capabilities are extraordinarily agile.  It can pick up a key word or phrase, like someone mentioning our name, and can immediately focus other senses and memory resources on that new information source, assess and process it.

Information-Gating, a phrase coined by StratSim, is an organisational equivalent of Sensory-Gating.  Like sufferers of dyspraxia, most organisations have poor ‘Information-Gating’ capability i.e. no ability to determine the information-trash from the gold.  They are like the person at the social gathering above but they are forced to listen to every conversation and noise in the room, while noting the temperature, considering the feel of the carpet under their feet and the taste and sensation of their drink; all at the same time, at the same volume.  It’s overwhelming. 

From an organisational Knowledge Management perspective, like dyspraxia sufferers, some parts of the organisations KM system work quite well i.e. their Financials or Asset Management System; while other systems don’t work at all.  A root cause is that the organisations own systems, organisational structures, processes and culture; are preventing them from being able to focus and adapt their resources to a constantly changing business environment. 

Much of the work we do with organisations involves creating this capability and is focused on two key principles or approaches.

·       - Information Gating

·       - Adaptive Strategies

Above we discussed Sensory-Gating, our brains ability to focus on just a few sensory information sources while excluding everything else.  Information-Gating is a methodology organisations can adopt for identifying the most important business outcomes and supporting information, processes and people; from the least important.  Or put more simply; ‘what to pay attention to, and what to ignore’.  (Some more detail on the website here: and yes, our web-team are bugging me to refine that but you’ll get the idea.  Yes, it turns out we also need to constantly adapt our own KM Systems!)

Just as important are Adaptive-Strategies.  Working in tandem with Information-Gating, these are agile capabilities for pivoting organisational resources to keep pace with and focused on a constantly evolving business outcomes.

These two capabilities are critical for any 21st Century organisation.  In my Pt 1 blog ‘What is a Knowledge Management System’ I quote author Liz Wiseman from her book ‘Rookie Smarts’: “When there is too much to know, the only viable strategy is to know where and how to find the information you need, when you need it”.  As Wiseman suggests, in the 21st Century KM environment no organisation can possibly hope to ‘know’ (within their KM Systems) everything that might affect or impact them.  Quite simply there is just too much to know.  And, in my view, a key reason many organisations are floundering is that they’ve yet to work that out.

Information-Gating capabilities and Adaptive-Strategies describe the work StratSim does in supporting organisations wanting to pivot their existing resources towards a Knowledge Management system capable of adapting to the continuous change of the 21st century business environment.  The good news is we typically find that organisations already have existing resources to achieve that.  What tends to be missing is acknowledgement and understanding of he new paradigm and adapting to it.

If any of that resonates, we’d welcome a conversation.

Additional reading: 

What is a Knowledge Management System Pt I

How to cure schizophrenic organisations