Primum Non Nocere

When does knowledge management (KM) happy talk become crazy talk?

Knowledge management too often approaches the wrong organizational issues. Yet, the practitioners fail to acknowledge their grave problems. Frequently, offenders are those that advocate ‘knowledge sharing’ or worse, much worse, a ‘knowledge sharing culture.’ Among these common KM offenders, the most harmful, by far, are those that advance IT-based methods and process engineering techniques for KM. 


colabria knowledge management


First, please note that upwards of 70-80% of KM efforts are either extremely challenged or outright failures.

The problem is self-absorbed KM people, vendors, consultants, etc., believe they can create entirely new technological methods and force them on an organization. That leads to confident failure and collapse.

Rather, KM people must recognize they serve the culture of The Social Enterprise. The knowledge flow paths, the extant social network structures, aggregate behaviors, etc., are the culture. They are very powerful. Culture cannot be created or managed only revealed and served.

colabria knowledge management


A key Latin maxim, taught to medical professionals for centuries, is Primum non nocereFirst, do no harm. This is essential to KM people and consultants.  Sadly, arrogance and technology are responsible for historical, expensive and widespread KM misuse and malfeasance. 

For example, concerning knowledge sharing, most all organizations do NOT have knowledge sharing problems. In most all organizations, knowledge sharing is fine, thank you very much.

For example at a municipal transportation authority in Asia, a large bureaucracy, they claimed they had a ‘knowledge sharing problem.’ They brought in a phalanx of ‘KM experts’ to ‘solve the problem.’

At the same time the intervention started, an attractive and popular employee had her first baby. Literally, in a matter of minutes, the KM consultants discovered, the entire organization, of about 500 people, on many floors, in a downtown skyscraper, with very limited technology, knew the gender and weight of the new baby and that the mother was doing fine.

So much for the ‘knowledge sharing’ baloney.

Sophisticated, fluid information flow paths, nodes and hubs exists in this organization. They exist in every organization ever known. Identify and master these knowledge raceways and many knowledge problems are solved. Broker structural holes to strengthen knowledge pathways. Broker structural holes to reveal structural wholes.

colabria knowledge management

Meanwhile, the KM experts correctly recognized they two problems were leadership and network comprehension. All knowledge-based organizations can be sharply improved with better leadership and network comprehension. Long story short, we corrected these issues and the problems were solved.

It is key to use techniques like appreciative inquiry, narrative, praxis intervention, conversation, social network analysis (SNA), dialectics and so on to divine the knowledge flow paths, influencers, network structures, etc., that define organizations. Focus on identifying, amplifying and mastering these pervasive sociological properties to achieve ever higher and higher organizational knowledge signal–to-noise ratios.

Meanwhile, to advance high fidelity knowledge-based organizations allow technology to create its own pull-thru and diffusion cycles. Pushing technology for KM is an expensive red herring. Create open, à la carte method and technology offerings for stakeholders. Only nurture and invest in the knowledge technologies actually get used. Above all, for KM, primum non nocere.

Colabria Action Research

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