Knowledge is personal, manage it that way

Thirty years ago I was the Chief Knowledge Officer of Diamond Technology Partners, a consulting firm attempting to blend the perspectives of Accenture and McKinsey. Leveraging what we knew was the essence of the value we created for clients. With a total headcount at the start of 25 people, the title was more aspirational than practical.

Things got tougher as we grew to over 1,200 professionals over the next six years. The technology couldn’t do what we thought it needed to do. There were no playbooks for how to do knowledge management. Half of what we did had never been done before. We tried programs and practices with variable success.

One of the central challenges was persuading our consultants to share what they knew with one another. The consensus in the field at the time was that sharing was the problem to crack.

Pondering the question of what made knowledge sharing hard led to one of those shower moments where insight happens. Were our consultants hoarding their knowledge to preserve their rank and status? What incentives could we offer them to part with what they had learned for the benefit of the organization? Did we need to find more altruistic individuals who would share because it was the right thing to do? Could I be doing something to set a better example of what good knowledge sharing looked like? Had I done anything recently that was worth sharing more widely? What, in fact, had I learned recently that was of any interest or value?

I had found the culprit!

Knowledge sharing was failing because I wasn’t sharing knowledge with myself. Socrates had it right after all. Know thyself.

It’s hard to share what you don’t know that you know.

The starting point for effective knowledge management in organizations needs to be knowledge management at the personal level. If you are a knowledge worker, effective personal knowledge management matters regardless of whether your organization cares.

In the last several years, we’ve seen a surge of interest and attention to the problems of personal knowledge management. The technology environment has become more welcoming and robust. There are organizational barriers that continue to make this harder than necessary. Organizations still favor standardization and control in ways that clash with the needs of individual knowledge workers. This will resolve over time.

If you are an individual knowledge worker, you should be thinking in terms of your own PKM needs and environment. You may need to work around organizational limitations. Persevere. The improvements in your effectiveness will buy you degrees of freedom in enlightened organizations. If not, your organization may be less enlightened than you’d like.

3 thoughts on “Knowledge is personal, manage it that way”

  1. I agree completely, Jim, and have been trying to promote the same message. The big challenge is that PKM (in whatever way you frame it) takes time and effort. Few executives are interested in that.

    BTW, your Dorothy Parker quote [“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” ] was actually made by Ellen Parr, it seems:

  2. Harold,

    I’ve heard the argument about the quote. When I last looked (which was likely before 2015) the consensus then was in favor of Parker. Not sure how I feel about how I might address it now. Will have to think absout that.

  3. Dear Jim,

    I came across your blog and your latest musings this morning. I was thinking about the connection between Knowledge work as Craft Work and the connection between Brand and Craft in the consulting industry.

    Would you agree with the idea that the connection between brand and craft should be expressed as:

    Great Knowledge Work = Great Craft = Great Brand

    If yes, then this morning you moved the needle even further, since becoming a Master of my craft requires now a good dose of PKM (Personal Knowledge Management), which as you know, and I am sure Socrates knew…it is not easy to get.

    Second question is…Where do you start?

    Finally…How does PKM connects to LLMs and therefore A.I.. Using your question of how to share knowledge with colleagues at Diamond, I believe the new version of your question is: How you share your knowledge with A.I.? and Do I want to do so?

    Eager to hear your thoughts.

    All the best,


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