KM Standards Farce

The purpose of Standards is to introduce and achieve uniformity and predictability in activities. More importantly, standards drive-out variation in industrial, informational and transactional processes.

Colabria Screw

The implementation of standards in industry and commerce became very important at the onset of the Industrial Revolution (1780). Industry had a demand for for high-precision machine tools and interchangeable parts. For example, Henry Maudslay developed the first industrially practical screw-cutting lathe in 1800. This allowed for the standardization of screw thread sizes for the first time. In short, industrial-era standards are critical to creating manufacturing productivity, equilibrium and scale.

During the Information Revolution, 1957-2007, important industrial-style standards for information format, storage, retrieval, syndication and access of information were crafted and adopted. These respected techniques achieved fundamental advancements in database administration, document management, library science, etc.

Most fields in information technology have comprehensive standards. They have training. They have certification. They have large professional organizations. Like manufacturing, IT Standards created scale, syndication and information equilibrium. For example, the World Wide Web emerged from the simple orchestration of three standards: HTTP, HTML, and the URI (URL+URN).

Contrary to the notion of Standards, today’s stunning productivity growth, knowledge economy and disruptive innovation depends entirely on originality, network combination, conceptual blending, cognitive diversity, knowledge variation and disequilibrium. Codification inhibits understanding and attenuates prosperous knowledge creation. These facts alone makes standards for knowledge or KM utterly preposterous.

Ministry of KM Standards (MinStand)

Ministry of KM Standards

Just imagine KM without the richness of authentic conversation, diverse opinions, original ideas, deliberate serendipity, and so on and so forth. Imagine if KM had a 1984-style Ministry of KM Standards, the MinStand. It makes us shudder…

Knowledge management is an evolutionary concept. The focus is on the future, no exceptions. KM is not an industrial manufacturing routine. KM is not an information systems process.

KM furthers adaptive organizational mutation and propels constructive variation. KM leads perpetual innovation through diversity, emergence, variation, mutation, originality, serendipity, exaptation, phronesis and a wide range of non-deterministic activities.  

KM leads the higher-order, situated cognitive behaviors essential to groups and prosperous knowledge creation. Today’s organizational  ‘evo-devo‘ (evolutionary development), pivots, clusters, etc., are the KM norm, the foundation of KM excellence, not the exception.

KM Standards are anathema to every principle of KM, knowledge, productivity, innovation, prosperity and the future itself! Yet, every several years the ridiculous KM Standards farce arises. The common approach is linear, structured process and ordered system for knowledge management. Reasonable people reject this viewpoint.

Recall, in a world where Instagram, with 12 employees, is valued at $1B, or roughly $83M/employee versus General Motors valued at $251K/employee, the LAST thing needed is standards on codifying information using industrial-era archetypes. These facts make KM Standards a ridiculous sham.

Of course there is value in striving to understand the uses and production of knowledge. However, unknown to the KM Standards charlatans and their acolytes this was already done… at the dawn of the Information Revolution. See: The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States.

ColabriaYakatori_thumb.pngKM is unique to humans and human relationship. For example, do you really think the world needs an ISO Standard for Love? What about a ‘Body of Knowledge’ for Friendship? How about a week-long certification in Trust? C’mon. It’s ridiculous. It’s silly to even be talking about it. It hurts KM – badly. These facts make KM Standards a farce. If you want to sharply improve your KM overnight, forget about KM Standards. Rather, just find some good Yakatori, cold malt beverages and start some authentic conversations

KM is focused on the future. It is not an archival method or some idle IT backwater. KM is not a management technique.


Yes, some people are charged with supervising the moldering cadavers of 20th Century business and govt. Museum-like KM standards and archival mental models fit that industrial and Fordist mindset. To allow that rigid, procedural, process thinking to infect 21st Century KM is objectively irresponsible. 

Reductionism and standards for KM is foolish. However, describing KM properties and ecologies is extremely valuable! These critical perspectives allow KM leaders to act in the situated present to deliver positive outcomes.

For example, some of the key properties of KM are:

· KM thrives in environments when the number of variables (activities, customers, employees) is so large that conventional sense-making methods are useless. KM propels understanding.

· KM inhabits ecologies with high degrees of interaction. Interaction are dynamic and rich. KM interactions are non-linear. Small causes may have large effects. KM reveals patterns, networks, feedback and structure to achieve comprehension and mastery. Other ‘standard’ methods fail with confidence.

· KM focuses on proximate interactions. KM nurtures, cultivates and coordinates diverse interactions. KM eases social friction and enhances knowledge flow paths.

· Effective KM inhabits open environments. When it is impossible to define system boundaries, KM leads situational awareness, achievement and prosperous outcomes.

· KM operates far from equilibrium. KM assures a constant flow of energy to propel continuous innovation. 

· KM drives co-evolution and delivers conceptual blending. KM orchestrates emergence. KM Creates the Future.

In conclusion, don’t get ‘screwed’ by the preposterous notion of KM Standards.


Colabria Action Research

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