Recap: APQC’s KM Conference, Day One – KM Edge: Where the best in Knowledge Management come together


Recap: APQC’s KM Conference, Day One

km_edge_butterfly.jpgAs most of you know, APQC kicked off its 14th annual knowledge management conference in Houston this morning. With so much knowledge sharing going on, it’s only possible to scratch the surface in a blog post (even a rather long one), but here are some of the key insights and take-aways from the three keynotes.

APQC president Carla O’Dell got us off to a great start this morning. Given that she outlined many of the main points from her presentation in her latest blog post, I will not repeat all of them here, but I will mention a few ideas that stuck out for me.

After explaining the five levels that make up APQC’s Stages of KM Maturity, O’Dell asked the audience, “After 15 years of formal KM, why isn’t everyone at level 5?” The challenges that the attendees mentioned were themes that APQC hears over and over again and that many of our studies seek to address. Answers included the difficulties associated with culture change, communication barriers related to global organizations with multiple locations, the need for companies to make time for KM and reward employees who share, generational differences, and ineffective lessons learned programs.

O’Dell argued that, in her opinion, there are three main reasons why so many organizations have not yet reached level 5 maturity:

  1. Not everybody needs to be at level 5, which involves using your organization’s knowledge to allow you to enter brand new lines of business.
  2. The goal keeps changing, and the definition of level 5 keeps changing.
  3. When progressing through the lower levels of maturity, organizations don’t always do a good job of creating a compelling vision of the future.

Picking up on this idea of a “vision of the future,” O’Dell presented some of the insights generated by APQC’s KM Advanced Working Group regarding five ideal future results that would define a mature, level-5 KM program. The ideal future result that generated the most discussion was: “People use critical thinking and appropriate problem solving heuristics to make sense of situations and to develop innovative responses.” O’Dell cited the example of Toyota, which uses the heuristic, “Ask why five times” as part of its effort to uncover the root causes of problems. Ensuring that employees have strong critical thinking skills will become increasingly important to business success: As one of the members of our Advanced Working Group pointed out, not everything is in Google, and people need to be able to solve problems and distinguish good information from bad.


In the next keynote address, Chris Meyer was asked to speculate about the future of KM.  The increasingly sophisticated knowledge-sharing technologies available to organizations prompted Meyer to ask the question: “Will KM be the next newspaper industry?”  By the end of the presentation, his conclusion was a definitive “no.”  Instead, knowledge management will evolve–must evolve–along with the tools and the nature of knowledge both inside and outside corporations.

Meyers’ view is that, right now, much of the corporate world sees KM as the content and IT as the container.  Considering the growing number of Web sites that both hold information and facilitate commenting, rating, organizing, and data submission (examples he cited included Flikr and Amazon), the outside world is clearly ready for the two to merge.  The corporate world must follow suit.

Are you prepared for your work e-mails to be rated according to their usefulness?  How would you like to be called into an executive meeting because your e-mails have achieved the top ranking in your subject area? Consumers are already engaged in these types of feedback loops, but are corporate environments equipped to handle such a culture shift?


During the final keynote of the day, Victor Newman voiced an opinion likely shared by many KMers: All strategies are knowledge strategies. All are a series of choices based on knowledge–both the knowledge you pay attention to and the knowledge you choose to ignore. To spur strategic KM thinking within your organization, Newman suggested three questions:

  1. How long have you got before you have to do something new?
  2. How good is the knowledge that underpins your current strategy?
  3. Does that knowledge create new freedoms to innovate, or does it keep you trapped in the same box?

Newman defined strategic knowledge management (SKM) as learning to manage knowledge to create and realize innovative opportunities. Rather than focus on the transfer of internal company-related knowledge, SKM encourages leaders to look at the context of change as something that continually changes and to develop the intuitive knowledge necessary to make their organizations more agile and insightful.


To those of you who are here in Houston with us, thank you so much–your energy and participation were a big part of making the first day of the conference such a success. I’d also like to extend a special thank you to the other members of our APQC content team, Krystl Campos and Michelle Cowan, who contributed to this blog post.

I look forward to seeing you all again tomorrow as we welcome keynoters Rob Cross, John McQuary, and Alan Deutschman as well as another great round of breakout sessions.

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