ESJ: A strategy for personal knowledge management

Jack Vinson provides a nice summary of what I had to say last week about personal knowledge management in his class on knowledge management. It’s a notion that I am continuing to explore. Another cut at finding an answer to the question that I find intriguing in my newest column at Enterprise Systems Journal. I try to build an argument that it is in each of our selfish, best, interests to develop and adhere to a strategy for personal knowledge managemment.

What is PKM, anyway?

As Jim McGee said, he was a guest speaker in my KM class Wednesday night, talking about personal knowledge management (PKM). He primarily gave us a framework on which he builds the idea of a PKM strategy, and he told a bunch of stories to help people get the idea. Jim’s framework consists of three components

  1. Portfolio. The portfolio serves as a record of work done, a backup brain, and as a sales tool (just as an artist’s portfolio is an advertising tool).
  2. Manage Learning. The portfolio also serves as a tool for reflection on how the work went last time and how it could be better. This is also an under-emphasized aspect of PKM.
  3. Master the Toolkit. Reflect on learning and reflect on how you use the tools of your trade.

Portfolios are critical to the concept of knowledge work as craft work. And though people frequently get lost in conversations about the technology, nearly everyone does some version of this. How many files, emails and pictures are archived on your computer? With the discussion of PKM, one goal is to be smarter about how we manage the portfolio.

Managing learning is an aspect of PKM that frequently gets overlooked. The knowledge worker needs to be aware of how she works and look for opportunities to work more effectively. (I almost said “continually look for opportunities,” but I realize that this begins to seem like a knowledge worker could get lost in constant navel-gazing. A couple students pushed on this issue in the discussion.) The point is that the knowledge worker’s regular process needs to include reflection. I believe this is the power behind the Carnegie program, Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, David Allen’s Getting Things Done and similar processes: they offer a process by which people can think about what is important, act against that knowledge, and review both the action and the direction for the next time (sounds like “plan, do, check, act“).

Mastering the toolkit gets too much verbiage. It’s far too easy to get lost in playing with new tools, whether that is a circular saw or a wiki. PKM begins to look a lot like personal information management in these cases. At the same time, part of the reflection process can include a review of how I use the tools and whether there are better tools available. I can choose to seek out new tools when there is enough friction with the current tools (tool geek), or I can rely on my larger network of friends and colleagues and contacts to introduce me to tools that they find particularly helpful. In the class discussion we recognized that each knowledge worker will require a different set of tools because we have our own processes for doing things.

Yet, there is something that still doesn’t sit right for people. Denham Grey has argued that knowledge is socially constructed, so personal knowledge management doesn’t make sense. In a different twist, I would include understanding the skills and interests of my nearby networks to be at least as important as remembering where I filed that report. This would make my networks another part of my portfolio, including the fact that my network can be used to help sell my skills and services.


jackvinson ( [Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

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