Re: Could KM have saved GM? #case-studies

Steven Wieneke <steve@...>


KM isn't dead at GM. We are currently working with them to put the next generation of Technical Memory right in the design engineer's work flow in their design math data. There are many KM like activities just not called knowledge management.


Steve W

From: "Peter Marshall"
Sent: Saturday, December 20, 2008 2:05 PM
To: sikmleaders@...
Subject: SPAM-LOW: Re: [sikmleaders] Re: Could KM have saved General Motors?

I've really enjoyed this dialogue, which I think has been more serious and realistic than most on KM...  Many dialogues in many CoPs suffer from bouts of incense-burning and self-congratulation, and KM, with it's abundance of smart people, can be worse than most.

I think the topic has produced this good result -- because in fact, GM is not dead yet, and it's very interesting to ask -- if we've got something which is REALLY useful as a practice or set of tools or body of expertise or whatever, why the hell wouldn't a rational buyer buy it when they face the need?  GM certainly is in dire need.  Are they actually irrational?  Has their culture and environment and complex barriers to change so warped their understanding that they are incapable of recognizing the value of KM to them?  And if so, doesn't that actually mean that large-scale, strategic KM doesn't exist or can't work?  After all, in order to have value, strategic KM would have to work exactly in environments where it wasn't already well practiced.  It has to be capable of being absorbed and realizing value in hostile, unreceptive environments, or else it fails at it's fundamental goal -- producing meaningful change.

I am worried that the situation may be something like another area I know something about -- speech recognition technology.  (I know, KM is not technology, but indulge the analogy for a moment).  Speech recognition has been around the corner and the obvious next big thing for 15 years... but it hasn't succeeded, because despite the obvious potential -- voice is the natural human interface -- it doesn't work well enough in practice.  It seems like a great idea, but doesn't produce the promised results.  The devil's in the details.  Do the real-work results of KM practice match the conceptual potential that smart people love?  Do they even produce positive results at all, often enough to be convincing to the un-converted?  If not, maybe it's because -- oops -- they really don't work yet.

Or to take a more mainstream analogy -- KM may be like green energy.  The coming thing? -- sure?  Worth investing in? -- sure.  Worth building a deep and broad and agile strategic program around? -- yes.  But don't expect miracles because it's really hard at the engineering and infrastructure and coordination of markets level.  It has to work well and cheaply and efficiently, and THEN it will be adopted organically, without the need of a massive bureaucratic and academic evangelism. 

Broadly speaking, I'm arguing that markets do respond to innovations that already work.  It's getting them there that's complex and emergent..  Is workable, strategic KM emergent or is it here?

Since GM isn't dead yet, and in fact has been told they better come up with a broad and deep and strategic and agile program of change and for change right quick -- who HERE is going to make the KM case?  Will it work?  In the messy real world?  It seems to me that evidence from Toyota on one end and Tesla Motors on the other argues yes, it could.  GM has all the resources to produce value.  What is their "better us of knowledge" roadmap?

Peter Marshall
CEO, Me-Me-Me (speaker-specific speech recognition for mobile applications)
"It's All About You"

On Sat, Dec 20, 2008 at 12:59 AM, Patrick Lambe <> wrote:

Nancy, I must finish editing the video podcast of the conversation we had in Singapore, it's highly relevant to this discussion - maybe this weekend!

What I took away from that conversation was that our problems are not just located at the top of organisations, but are pervasive throughout organisations, specifically in how we support knowledge flows vertically along power-relationships. I think just focusing at the top is seductive in many ways - it might create an illusion of effect, it certainly feeds one's sense of importance, and probably fills the grocery basket more effectively than focusing lower down in organisations.

But in reality, organisations such as GM are a socially produced balance of powers held in tension each imposing constraints from many directions. It's a culture that produces and reinforces its incapacity to act at many levels - at least, that's my guess from working with many other very large organisations. Getting a change of heart and practice in the boardroom would not survive long if you didn't get changes of heart and practice all the way through the culture - the legacy culture would just spit the dissonant leadership team out.

I take Murray's point and I think yours too, that the "tactical" KM game appears to be a different game from the "strategic" KM game, and that many - most even - knowledge managers are much more comfortable at the tactical level. I take the point that KM needs to get more serious at the strategic level. But I don't think it will, at the end of the day, be a qualitatively different game, working with different rules. It's the same game, just oriented vertically.

This is why when I say we need more heavyweights, I mean heavyweights in KM practice, not just thought leaders commenting from the sidelines, invaluable though they are. We need knowledge managers inside organisations who can command the respect of their peers and superiors, who can figure out how to influence people more powerful than they are, embed the practices you speak about, who can show impact and outcomes, and who can share what they learn with their colleagues in other organisations. Otherwise all this is just chatter.


Patrick Lambe

Have you seen our KM Method Cards?

On Dec 20, 2008, at 11:34 AM, Nancy Dixon wrote:

Over the brief history of KM we have had a number of shifts in focus, each one broadening how we think about knowledge and bringing us new practices. 
Early on we thought collecting explicit knowledge was the way to do KM, so we built large repositories.  Those were helpful, but did not give us the gains we hoped for.  Then folks like John Seely Brown and Nonaka broadened our perspective and we began to see there were ways to share tacit knowledge, and Wenger gave us a practice to do that with.  We broadened our perspective with the help of Pfeffer and Sutton, from thinking that only expert knowledge was useful, to recognizing that those who do the work have knowledge born from their everyday experience that can help the organization move forward.  Maybe these are the giants of which Patrick speaks, those who have helped us see a new perspective.

Peter Marshall
Mobile: (949) 689-7000
Skype: ideasware
GTalk: peter.marshall

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