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Index    What is knowledge management? ... What is knowledge? ... It’s really just about intranets, isn’t it? ... Can knowledge be managed? ... Why is KM important? What are the benefits to my business? ... What are the benefits to me and my team?  ... Aren’t we doing this already? ... What are the biggest barriers? ... How can we encourage knowledge sharing?What behaviors are needed? ... How can I start to manage my knowledge? ... Can you take a piece of knowledge out of its context? ... What exactly is a knowledge asset? ... What exactly is a community of practice? ... Is there a conflict between re-use of knowledge and innovation? ... What is an AAR/Peer Assist/ Retrospect?What does a Knowledge Manager do?

Who can help me?Who is KCI?What does KCI do?

What is knowledge management?

  • Have you ever achieved something that is really important to you because of a lucky find of information or a chance meeting - maybe just in the nick of time? 
  • Have you ever had an idea come from ‘left field’ that really was the ‘ticket’ ? 
  • Have you ever had the feeling that you just KNOW someone has done this before, but you don’t know who, or how to find them? 

If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of these, then you already understand the value of knowledge, and the frustrations that can come from inability to access knowledge. 

Knowledge Management is about systematically making use of the knowledge in the organization, and applying it to YOUR business problem; tapping into ‘What your organization knows’ to help you deliver your business results. 

It consists of never making the same mistake once (let alone twice), and making every decision in the light of the full knowledge base of the organization. 

The management of knowledge needs to be part of your normal business practices, just like the management of finance and the management of safety. 

Knowledge: a person’s understanding

Synonyms: accomplishments, awareness, attainments, comprehension, consciousness, discernment, doctrine, familiarity, inside story, insight, instruction, intelligence, judgment, know-how, learning, lore, observation, proficiency, science, scholarship, wisdom.

Antonyms: ignorance, inexperience, illiteracy

Manage: guide, control, accomplish

Synonyms: achieve, administer, arrange, bring about, care for, carry out, conduct, direct, govern, influence, instruct, maintain, operate, pilot, regulate, succeed, supervise, take care of, train, use, watch over, work  

Antonyms: botch, bumble, fail, follow

– Roget’s thesaurus


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What is knowledge? Isn’t it the same as information? Isn’t KM the same as IM?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “knowledge is the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.” Knowledge is the richness of learning, insight and experience that is in people’s heads (and some say in their bodies). Knowledge is the background that allows you to make the best decision. 

Knowledge can be in people’s heads (tacit knowledge) or it can be written down or recorded (explicit knowledge). You can never capture the full richness of what’s in people’s heads -- try writing down the knowledge of how to ride a bicycle for example! -- but explicit knowledge can be a good catalyst for connecting people together, as it can be stored and searched. Captured knowledge can be of enormous value if easy to share, easy to read, easy to add to, and if it provides a connection to others who know. 

Knowledge is not the same as information (data which has been packaged in a useful and understandable way).  The story to the right illustrates the difference between data, information and knowledge, and demonstrates that trust is an important element of effective knowledge transfer. 

Knowledge is a lot harder to manage than information -- it is mainly stored in heads rather than on hard disks.  However knowledge management needs to be built on a foundation of good data management and information management. 

Story –  You are in a foreign airport, trying to reach a remote site office for a crucial meeting.  You have never traveled this route before, and are confused and bewildered by the number of options.  Which is the best route, the most reliable airline, and the easiest connection? On the TV screens above you appear an endlessly scrolling list of flight details and departure times. So much data that you can’t take it in. 

At last you find a source of information, a stack of timetables where the data has been sorted into a useful format, and you can look up your destination.  You see that there are three options for getting there. They all look risky; connection times are tight and you don’t know any of the airports or airlines.  How can you know which is the best flight?

The man standing next to you has been watching you, and offers some personal knowledge.  “I have traveled that route several times and I always take the northern option.  The flights on the southern route are often delayed and you could miss your connection.”

Should you trust him?  It’s vital that you make the meeting tonight.  Other people from your company must travel this route regularly; why doesn’t the local office put some recommendations on their web site?


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It’s really just about intranets, isn’t it?

Intranet technologies can serve an important function in knowledge management, but focusing too much on technology can be dangerous.  Knowledge management is much more than IT systems and applications. 

Because knowledge lives in people’s heads, and loses value when it is written down, it can’t be treated like data or information.  Effective KM needs to address: 

  • People – KM roles have to be established in the business, and specific behaviors need to be encouraged (e.g., seeking other’s knowledge, willingness to share one’s own experience).  Fundamentally, you have to make some changes to ‘the way we work around here.’ 
  • Process – there has to be a tried-and-tested process for capturing, distilling, validating, storing, applying and reusing knowledge, and also for innovating. 
  • Technology – the people and the process need to be supported by enabling technology, which allows knowledge to be found and accessed wherever it resides (in databases, on the Intranet, in people’s heads).  IT plays an important role in KM by providing the technology to allow people to communicate. 
  • Culture – without a culture that promotes and recognizes sharing and the re-use of knowledge, any attempts to introduce KM are going to be a hard struggle. 

“The idea is not to create an encyclopedia of everything that everybody knows, but to keep track of people who ‘know the recipe’, and nurture the technology and culture that will get them talking.”

– Arian Ward, Hughes Space & Communications


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Can knowledge be managed?

Many people say knowledge can’t be managed. Certainly knowledge can’t be controlled, but capture and sharing knowledge can be encouraged and facilitated, and the environment within which knowledge flourishes can certainly be managed. 

Managing knowledge involves creating the 

  • Right Conditions – we need an entrepreneurial organization and a common, reliable infrastructure;
  • Right Means – we need to have a systematic approach, tools, and processes for managing knowledge; and
  • Right Actions – where people instinctively seek, share, and leverage know-how & new ideas. 

“Knowledge is not a ‘thing’ which can be managed; it is a capacity of people and communities continuously generated and renewed in their conversations to meet challenges and opportunities.”

– David Skyrme; ‘Knowledge Management; Oxymoron or dynamic duo?’, Managing Information Vol. 4, No. 7


"A investment in knowledge pays the best interest." – Benjamin Franklin


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Why is KM important? What are the benefits to my business?

In today’s knowledge-intensive world, what matters is ‘What you know’, ‘Using what you know’, and ‘How fast you can know something new?’.  This capability is the key, sustainable business advantage (according to Larry Prusak of IBM).

The value of Knowledge Management is delivered in three areas: 

  • Better and faster decisions –  by tapping into the experience of your peers (whether next door or across the globe), you can avoid their pitfalls, apply their solutions, and make the right decision the first time. 
  • A step change in productivity –  by building a full knowledge of our own part of the business, we can reduce costs & minimize new resources to meet growth targets. 
  • New Products & Services – a re-use of knowledge fuels innovation. 

Knowledge management will reduce costs and time in the short term, and at the same time provide an inventory of experience and expertise for the future, allowing a flexible, fast-paced response to organization demands.

“At its most basic, Knowledge Management is simply about transferring the dispersed know-how of an organization more effectively to its all parts. More and more organizations are mastering the technology needed to get help fast from far-flung parts of its operation to resolve difficult issues. ...

“Much more challenging is systematic capture of know-how built from years of experience so that a relatively inexperienced employee can perform immediately with the competence of an old hand -- hundreds of old hands even -- without having to [find and] ask the old hand for help and advice. 

“The pressure to meet this challenge as we would expect is growing. Fortunately so are both the technologies and management techniques needed.”

– Andrew MacKenzie, GVP-Chemicals, British Petroleum


“It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.” – Oscar Wilde


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What are the benefits to me and my team?

In any activity with a learning curve; knowledge management can accelerate the learning, drive down costs, increase efficiency or up-time, and give a safer operation, whatever is relevant to your business.  Knowledge management can also eliminate the unlearning curve, so that knowledge can be accessed in ten years time, as fresh as it is today. 

The majority of your business challenges will not be unique to your team.  The chances are that someone, somewhere in your business, has already solved most of the problems you are facing.  Why not access their knowledge via a Peer Assist?  Bring it in during the planning stage (build a better plan) and during the operations phase (access the wider pool of experience). 

There is no longer any merit in solving things for yourself… Rather, the merit lies in delivering your business objectives faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner.  If there is knowledge out there which can help you, then get hold of it as soon as you can. 

“Most activities or tasks are not onetime events. Whether it’s drilling a well or buying a company, conducting a transaction at a service station, we do the same things repeatedly. Our philosophy is fairly simple: Every time we do some thing again, we should do it better than the last time.”

John Browne, Chief Executive Officer of BP Amoco, in Prokesh (1997), “Unleashing the power of learning,” Harvard Business Review

“The only sustainable advantage is what you know, using what you know, and how fast you can know something new. There is nothing else; nothing else that is sustainable.”

– Larry Prusak, IBM


“Any company that can figure out how to give its people the organizational knowledge they need -- at the point and time needed -- can position itself to compete more effectively and succeed much faster. Many companies have vital knowledge resting with one individual and do little to make the knowledge more generally available. Many companies are unaware of their own knowledge base and evidence has shown that knowledge is often lost from a company through employee attrition or related cost saving measures. The enterprise that harnesses its intellectual capital can apply that asset to its business challenges and opportunities.”

– Anthony Paulson, University of Texas


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Aren’t we doing this already?

Yes.  Almost certainly you are doing some of this already.  You may be reviewing your work to identify learning points, you may have a process to capture ‘Lessons Learned’, and you may have active networks that share best practices.  All of these are a part of getting business value from the knowledge of the organization. 

By completing the loop -- by filling any gaps to build a holistic and systematic approach to knowledge management -- you can fully reap the benefits of the good start you may already have made.



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How can we encourage knowledge sharing?

Nothing happens without the right incentives.  We have limited time and energy, and people in most organizations are already working at their limit.  How can we encourage people to spend the time on KM now, to save the time in the future? We need to give the following: 

  • Recognition – Knowledge Management needs to be given status as an important part of the job, through the creation of KM roles, and through active encouragement by management. 
  • Example – This is not something ‘the troops’ do. Management needs to lead by example. 
  • Payback – People who use a knowledge management approach need to find that they get local, personal benefit. By accessing the knowledge of others, they find that it makes their own job much easier. 
  • Reward – Although any attempt to ‘bribe’ people into managing knowledge is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term, reward systems need to be compatible with knowledge management.  We need to identify and reward the team players rather than the lone heroes, the knowledge sharers rather than the power hoarders, the re-users rather than the re-inventors. 

“Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” – Howard Aiken



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How can I start to manage my knowledge?

If you are managing the knowledge of a business unit or team, you need to start to think about introducing KM processes, such as the processes used in the Schlumberger LawHub or at BP.  You may wish to run a KM audit to identify the strengths and gaps in your current processes.  You may wish to arrange training in some of the tools and techniques, so that they can become embedded in your business processes.  You certainly should think about what your knowledge assets are, and how they can be managed. 

You will probably want to kick off a few carefully selected pilot projects 

You may wish to identify knowledge-sharing networks of practitioners (communities of practice – sometimes called ‘Practice Groups’ in law firms) across your organization, and give them the crucial resources they need to enable them to share and apply their knowledge.

Call any member of Knowledge Connections, Inc., to discuss how you can start to manage your knowledge. 

Contact us about our service offerings to see what might be of value to you.


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What are the biggest barriers?

  • Knowledge is power – too often people see knowledge hoarding as a way to personal power.  However by the same argument, knowledge sharing is empowerment. 
  • People need to move from building empires to building new relationships. 
  • The individual work bias of the past (“I have to solve this all by myself”) is shifting to a teamwork and a collaborative bias. 
  • Local focus is often a perceived barrier to knowledge management, which can be converted to a network focus by the establishment of communities of practice. 
  • “Not invented here” can be a real barrier to the use of other’s knowledge, if the relationship of trust is missing.  Trust will grow with face-to-face knowledge sharing, and few people resist a request for help. 
  • People are often afraid that errors will be exposed and punished, and are therefore unwilling to share what they may see as failures.  This is why techniques such as Retrospects accentuate learning from success. 
  • People feel they are not paid to share.  Knowledge management is often seen as not part of normal business.  Preserving the value of our knowledge assets is not seen as core business. 
  • People feel they have no time to share.  This is a very real barrier – most people are ‘maxed out’ at the moment.  So we need to make knowledge sharing as quick and efficient as we can, because the truth really lies in recognizing that we don’t have the time NOT to share. 

Knowledge = Power (Francis Bacon)


-- or --



power=knowledgeshared (Reid Smith)


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What behaviors are needed? 

  • We need federal behaviors; the recognition that our loyalties and linkages lie wider than just our own team. 
  • We need to recognize our dual citizenship; that we are members of our local business team, and also of communities of practice which span the federation. 
  • We need the behavior of reflection  the habit of stopping to think about what we have achieved, and how we achieved it, in order to learn. 
  • We need openness to the ideas of others; and a willingness to look for help. 
  • We need the generosity to offer our help when it is requested. 

“Through interacting, we share the opportunity to benefit from both tacit and explicit knowledge. So what we want to do is...

“Help people find their own reasons and their own ways to increase the quality and frequency of their interacting with others. I find introductory sessions and conversations infinitely easier and more productive when I actively seek out their own reasons for talking about something with me in the first place -- and continuing on from where they are at, right then and right there.” 

– Brad Meyer, Personal Coach



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What exactly is a knowledge asset?

 Many companies start their knowledge management journey by concentrating on putting people in touch with people, so that knowledge can be kept in its richest form - in people’s heads - and transferred through conversation. 

This is a great way to start, but it is not a sustainable strategy.  Heads leak.  Memories fade, people leave, and people can only be in one place at one time.  Fairly soon you will be faced with the need to capture as much as possible in recordable form, without losing the vital richness and context. 

If knowledge is packaged in such a way that it is reusable, storable and replicable, then it becomes an asset to your company -- a knowledge asset. 

With our partners, we have pioneered a format for recording and storing knowledge, which has proven value in several business environments and can easily be applied to your own knowledge needs.

“Sooner or later you cannot time-slice your experts any further and allow them to have any kind of quality of life.  Sooner or later they are going to be tired of getting up at three o’clock in the morning to participate in one more videoconference.  So the question is can you create a knowledge asset?  Can you get the knowledge from an individual head, separate it from the source of creation, and create a strategic asset that can be deployed and leveraged across the entire enterprise?  That’s the second big challenge of knowledge management – leveraging up the individual to an asset base that can affect the entire organization.”

– John Henderson, Boston University



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What exactly is a community of practice? Is it the same as a network?

A community of practice is one kind of network, but not all networks are communities of practice.  A community of practice should involve practitioners – i.e., people who do the same sort of work, and can learn from each other.  The practitioners should ideally communicate directly and continuously, rather than intermittently and through representatives. 

“Because Communities of Practice generate extraordinary learning, they are among the most important structures of any organization where thinking matters.”

– John Sharp



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Can you take a piece of knowledge out of its context?  Why should my local knowledge be of interest to anyone else? 

Can you actually take a piece of knowledge or experience from one area, and apply it somewhere else, in what might be a completely different context? 

The answer is “yes,” provided you understand the full business context in which that knowledge was created.  Much of what you learn will only be relevant in the local context, but there may be 10% or 20% of the knowledge which has wider use.  There are two main ways of moving knowledge from one context to another. 

  • A Peer Assist is a process where people are called in by a business unit, to apply their experience to a local problem.  The participants directly apply their own tacit knowledge in the local context. 
  • The process of codifying a knowledge asset allows the generic knowledge to be extracted from the local context. 

Above all, do not assume that nobody is interested in what you know.  There are almost certainly people around the world who are facing problems you have already solved! 




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Is there a conflict between re-use of knowledge and innovation?

There is no conflict.  You can only innovate effectively from a position of full knowledge.  Find out what your organization already knows, and then see how much you can innovate, based on that knowledge.  Who knows, there may be an off-the-shelf answer to your question that will save you having to innovate at all! 

“Well stolen is half done.”

– Larry Prusak



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What is an AAR/Peer Assist/ Retrospect?

These are three of the simplest tools that you can apply in your organization to learn before, during and after. All three are focused meetings, involving the project team or work team. 

A Peer Assist is a structured, facilitated meeting or workshop where people are invited from other business units, or other businesses, to share their experience, insights and knowledge with a team who have requested some help.  It is important that not only true peers attend the meeting, but the right peers as well.  Usually personal networks or company yellow pages are great places to start identifying your peers.

The After Action Review is a short, focused meeting, for the team, by the team, lasting half an hour or less.  This sort of routine team learning allows you to make mid-course corrections in your project, based on what you learn.  It allows you to address and optimize the way you work as a team, and it allows you to start to build your collective operational knowledge.  The AAR has been proven in BP and the U.S. Army to be a very effective way for a team to learn, and also promotes openness and good team behaviors. 

A Retrospect is a knowledge capture event at the end of a project, involving as many of the project team as possible.  It is a quick and effective way of capturing the knowledge before the team disbands.  It is a structured and facilitated meeting, which lasts from a couple of hours to a couple of days.  If the team was ad hoc and is about to disband, it is helpful if a member from the next team to undertake a similar business challenge participates in the discussion.  In this way a Retrospect for one team can also serve as a Peer Assist for the next.




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What does a Knowledge Manager do?

The role of the knowledge manager in the business unit is threefold: 

        To ensure that the staff within the business unit have access to the knowledge they need to do their job, wherever this knowledge may have originated (within the business unit, within the company, or outside).

        To encourage adoption and application of this knowledge in the business activity, in a sustainable manner, to deliver challenging business goals and distinctive performance.

        To ensure that any new knowledge gained through business operations is captured and then shared with other business units (current and future) in a way that will improve their ability to deliver their business goals.

They may facilitate knowledge capture processes in the business, and may build knowledge assets on behalf of the business where required, but their primary role is to make sure that the knowledge management process happens, and that any standard KM procedures are followed. The knowledge manager role is likely to be a full-time role for large or strategic business units, but otherwise could be a part-time role. 

“You can do fairly simple processes such as Peer Assist for learning before, After Action Review for learning during, and Retrospect for learning after. That simple ‘learning before, during and after’ model was the breakthrough for me.  The telling remark here goes something like, ‘We think knowledge management is everybody’s job. So we’re not going to build up some big staff organization of knowledge managers to do the work everyone should be doing.’  Like most myths, this one has a grain of truth in it. It should be everyone’s job to create, share, and use knowledge-to some degree. 

“But let’s face reality here.  Every engineer in your organization, for example, should be creating and using new product development knowledge.  But not every engineer will (or can) do a good job writing down what he or she knows.  Everyone should reflect on life, but not everyone should write poems or novels about his or her musings.  Knowledge management will not succeed if there are no workers and managers whose primary duties involve gathering and editing knowledge from those who have it, paving the way for the operation of knowledge networks, and setting up and managing knowledge technology infrastructures. 

“The next time someone starts spouting the ‘it’s everybody’s job’ rigmarole to me, I’m going to retort, ‘So I guess since it’s everybody’s job to monitor costs and enhance revenues, you’ve also eliminated the finance and accounting departments?’”

– Tom Davenport


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Who can help me?

One of the basic principles of knowledge management is ‘Learn Before Doing’. Although the route to managing knowledge may be unknown territory for you, there are others who have been this way before, and know the pitfalls and solutions. 

Knowledge Connections, Inc., is a group of professionals with proven track record of delivering measurable business benefit and transformation through application of knowledge management.  We were the core of the highly successful BP Knowledge Management Team, delivering a 50 fold return on investment over two years.   

Contact us to see how we can help you 




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Who is KCI?

Walter A. Palen has many years of experience in the field of knowledge management and developing learning organizations. 



See our biographical information at who we are.



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What does KCI do? 

We offer you the chance to access an unparalleled quantity and quality of knowledge and experience in the practical application of knowledge management. 

We will work with your own KM team to transfer the skills and experience of KM to your own organization. If you do not have a KM team, we will help identify and empower the right individuals to own and champion knowledge management in your organization. 

We offer a service of coaching, consultancy and facilitation to help you begin, and to focus your efforts and deliver real, measurable value through knowledge management. 

Have a look at our service offering.


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Last updated Jan 1, 2004

Page Authors: Nick Milton and Walt Palen

Knowledge Connections, Inc., all rights reserved.